BC Ethics Bowl to Bring Together High School Students and Experts on Local Issues

October 22, 2021

By Cem Erkli

BC Ethics Bowl to Bring Together High School Students and Experts on Local Issues

In a time of deepening polarization, motivated reasoning and misinformation, ethics bowls are a space to exercise and further develop vitally important democratic competencies that participants will take with them through the rest of their lives.

“Just like life and how it isn’t all black and white, the same is true of the cases we talk about in the Ethics Bowl,” said a Vancouver secondary student during the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue’s (the Centre) Doubling Down event in March 2021. “Because of Ethics Bowl I have come to appreciate and respect the viewpoints of others while still being able to objectively analyze them and become more confident in defending my opinions. I have also learned how to take the emotions out of discussion and discuss based on fact.”

SFU Philosophy Department has been hosting ethics bowls for several years. This year, SFU Philosophy has partnered with the Centre’s Strengthening Canadian Democracy Initiative (the Initiative) to host “Democracy in our Backyard: Ethical Issues in Local Governance” on Saturday November 27th.

“We started our involvement in the Ethics Bowl movement as an outreach activity to bring opportunities for students to engage in exciting yet carefully crafted philosophical reflection,” says Nicolas Fillion, Philosophy department faculty member and director of Ethics Bowl Canada. “Over the years, seeing students tackle multifaceted ethical problems in such an inspired manner has been an incredibly rewarding experience. This is why SFU philosophy has now committed to being one of the National leaders supporting the development of this activity across the country.”

Twelve teams from high schools around the lower mainland will spend the day in the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue building discussing current events and governance that shape their neighbourhoods, communities and local businesses.

During the day, students will discuss 10 case studies, and winners will be selected by a panel of three judges that score the teams on their ability to answer questions, demonstrate awareness of competing perspectives, engaging with feedback from the opposing team, and respectful dialogue.

Strengthening Canadian Democracy

The Initiative identified ethics bowls as one of the recent innovations in civic education that can de-escalate polarization and promote constructive dialogue on political matters.

“We need spaces where we don’t just name our values, but we practice them. So we can learn what they hear like, sound like and feel like in reality. Ethics bowls are one of those spaces. And a space made even better because it is gamified, which adds a bit of fun,” says Dr. Jennifer Wolowic who leads the Initiative.

The Initiative invited fellows, associates and units from the Centre to submit case studies for the students based on their areas of expertise. For example, moving in a Livable region drafted a case study on mobility pricing, faculty member Diane Finegood wrote a case on vaccine passports, City Hive contributed ethical debates over the rights to public space and Renewable Cities contributed a case on infill housing. Students will also discuss safe drug supply, food banks, municipal elections rules and more.

Judges for this event include SFU Philosophy associates, several of the Centre’s experts, and notable figures such as Former Mayor of Vancouver and MLA Sam Sullivan.

What is an ethics bowl?

An ethics bowl is a competitive, but also collaborative competition where teams of high school students discuss real world cases and ethical issues. Students are judged on how well they explain and provide evidence of their open opinions and how well they collaborate, listen and respond to their opposing team. Unlike speech and debate competitions that judge students on how firmly they defend their perspectives, ethics bowls have gamified the values, skills and competencies of dialogue.

“Ethics bowl is not just a new discussion format but a whole set of values are introduced. How we view disagreements, the study of ethics itself and how we understand community,” students have said.

“Democracy in Our Backyard” is an exciting opportunity for young people to imagine, criticize and compare bold strategies on issues the adults, politicians and systems around them are deciding on right now.



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