Ethics Bowl: Debate Competition

Kirby Ethics Bowl members debate contemporary ethics issues and attend adjudicated events where they compete against other high school teams from Northern California. We have sent a team to nationals twice in the last three years.

Last year, Kirby School sent 7 students under the guidance of Josh Tropp to the Northern California Regional Qualifier–a cognitively exhausting day-long collegial competition of wits before a panel of judges including UCSC faculty, local businesspersons, and public officials–to flex their intellectual chops in a field of 24 teams, each eager to win a chance to attend Nationals this spring.

The questions they faced were complex. Would you argue that people who suffer from Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder harm themselves when they modify their bodies to give themselves disabilities? Is gentrification positive or negative?

When discussed, these topics might–if not properly prepared for–give rise to criticism or even disparagement. However, Ethics Bowl rewards students for engaging in respectful, supportive, and rigorous discussion–encouraging the values propounded by democracy.  

“Wrapped around this work is a model for the competitions that rewards students for the depth of their thought, their ability to think carefully and analytically about complex issues, and the respect they show to the diverse perspectives of their peers,” the National Ethics Bowl website states.

Both Kirby teams won their 3 morning arguments and moved into the quarterfinals. Team 2 was defeated in the quarterfinals while Team 1 advanced all the way to the final round, facing the second Stanford Online High School team after defeating the first.  

Each debate is scored by 3 judges on a number of criteria. Although cumulatively Kirby scored two points higher than their competitor, the winning team is determined by total number of judges: Stanford narrowly won the day.

Coach Tropp said, “The judges were tremendously impressed with our students. And I was amazed with the thoughtfulness, intelligence, and eloquence they displayed through 6 hours of competition spread over a 10 hour day. As their coach, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Ethics Bowl Director and Assistant Director at the Center for Public Philosophy at UC Santa Cruz, Kyle Robertson, J.D., Ph.D., said of Kirby Team 1, “…their mode of argumentation was basically the ideal we strive for in the Ethics Bowl.

Kirby’s performance at last year’s Ethics Bowl precipitated an invitation to include Middle School students. Students interested in joining Ethics Bowl should contact Mr. Tropp.

Kirby Team 1: Mika Yassur, Emma Arulanantham, Alec Phillips, and Grace Miller. Kirby Team 2: Micah Wayne, Morgan Watts, and Jeremy Richey