We are proud to share that Willow’s Ethics Bowl Team has earned second place in the NJ-NY Middle School Ethics Bowl. The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School hosted the competition on February 25, 2023. Willow students competed against 20 teams to make it to the final round, where they faced Stevens Cooperative School. This year’s team made history as the first team from The Willow School to reach this level of the competition.
Modeled after the National High School Ethics Bowl, the Middle School Ethics Bowl aims to teach students how to think through ethical issues together. Students are given cases based on real-world ethical issues to consider in advance of the competition. During the competition, they collaboratively present their stance on the issue using ethical frameworks and their research, engage with other teams in open dialogue to discuss issues further, and earn points for respectful debate and active listening.
This year’s Willow Ethics Bowl Team was composed of team captain Piper, Aaden, Asha, Sebastian, and Hiro. Sally Zeiner, Willow’s Middle School English Teacher and Lower School Director, is Willow’s Ethics Bowl coach. The Willow School’s Ethics Bowl Team members recently shared insights into their approach to the competition:
Coming to Consensus
At the competition, teams must present a cohesive stance on very difficult ethical dilemmas. This requires the team to not only understand the cases, but agree on a position. “There were many times, especially when we first got the cases in October, where we would have long conversations about the case for the entire practice,” Piper shared.
After some trial and error and learning from each other, the team developed a method to approach the cases. “First, we would go over the topic as a team,” Hiro said. “Then, we would do some extensive research to understand it, rather than just go blindly into discussing it. We would talk about what the research means, how we can use it in our case, and if it is relevant to our case. We would base our decision off of those research pieces to make sure we had facts to back up our decisions.”
“All of us have different ideas, and we all have different viewpoints, which helped us find the most ethical decision because we all brought up different points,” added Piper.
“Figuring out a way that we can all be able to get our point across and being able to share the air is another key point of how we get as far as we did in the competition,” said Aaden. Aaden noted that “being in the Willow environment and Willow community, having smaller classes and being around each other all of the time” helped the team get to know each other well and come together. The team actively worked on tactics to “share the air,” helped each other grow in self-awareness, and built their confidence together.
“I didn’t think Ethics Bowl would be as fun as it was, at first,” said Asha, but the team bonded over the months they worked together. This emphasis on respect and understanding is key to the Ethics Bowl competition. Students also drew from the Willow Virtues Program and its emphasis on ethical decision-making when considering cases. The team’s ability to collaborate and recognize each other’s strengths gave them a leg up in the competition.
During the competition, students learn which cases they are presenting at the beginning of the match. The two teams present their stances (they may agree or disagree on an issue; either way they share their reasoning and ethical frameworks they used). Respectful dialogue and reasoning are key. Then, both teams get to ask each other questions in a section called Open Dialogue.
“You can come out of the Open Dialogue with a completely new perspective on the case,” shared Sebastian, who said this part of the competition was his favorite. “I think one of the most important parts of the Ethics Bowl in general is being polite and respectful to the other team. I think that if you come off – especially in the Open Dialogue – as being disrespectful, you’re going to lose points for that.”
The Final Round
The Willow team won their first three rounds. “After the third round, all of the teams collectively sat together and there were a few words spoken, and then it was time to announce,” said Aaden. “We didn’t really know what to expect because we did win our rounds, but at the same time, there were a lot of other amazing schools and teams there. When we heard Willow announced, we were all ecstatic!” Sebastian added, “I just heard Asha scream.”
The Willow School competed against Stevens Cooperative School in the final round. “As soon as they announce it, you go up and have to get ready for it, which gave us barely any time to process it,” Piper added. “We immediately had to jump in to see what cases we had left and try to figure out which it would be. It was a little tricky there because it was overwhelming.”
The final case was about AI-generated art and included questions about ownership and copyright for artists’ work. The team did a great job presenting the case, although they secretly wished it had been case number two. Case number two was “Freedom of Tweet,” a dilemma about how social media companies should monitor speech online, including hate speech. Initially, this was the case that the Willow team most fiercely disagreed on and debated before crafting their consensus.
“That kind of shows our growth because the case that we struggled with the most was probably one of our strongest,” said Aaden.
The experience of the tournament made a lasting impact on all of the team members. Of the whole experience, Hiro shared, “I really like the Ethics Bowl because you get to share your opinions while understanding your opponents’ views and opinions and why they made their decision. You get to really step into other people’s minds and see how they think. It’s really interesting.”
We are so proud of the Ethics Bowl Team’s achievement. The entire Willow community commends the students and their coach on their hard work, dedication, and commitment to ethical reasoning and respectful dialogue! We’d like to send a special shout-out to team captain Piper, too. Piper did a wonderful job leading the group and setting the tone for respectful communication and collaboration.
Thank you to Kent Place for organizing this year’s Middle School Ethics Bowl! We look forward to next year’s competition. We also hope to see more Willow alumni participating in the National High School Ethics Bowl!