What is the National High School Ethics Bowl?

An ethics bowl is a competitive yet collaborative event in which students discuss timely real-life ethical issues. In each round of competition, teams take turns analyzing ethical cases and responding to questions and comments from another team and a panel of judges. An ethics bowl differs from a debate competition in that students are not assigned opposing views; rather, they defend whichever position they think is correct, provide each other with constructive criticism, and win by demonstrating that they have thought rigorously and systematically about the cases and engaged respectfully and supportively with all participants. The National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) is hosted at UNC-Chapel Hill every year, and the NHSEB also supports a network of Regional High School Ethics Bowls across the nation that take place annually in the fall and winter. The NHSEB is modeled on the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB).

Data from NHSEB surveys shows ethics bowl teaches and promotes ethical awareness, critical thinking, civil discourse, civic engagement, and an appreciation for multiple points of view in students. Teachers also believe students involved in ethics bowl have improved standardized test scores compared to non-participating students.

What is a Regional High School Ethics Bowl?

A Regional Competition or Regional Bowl is registered with the NHSEB and the winner of the competition has an opportunity to attend the Nationals in April. Some Regional Organizers also host practice ethics bowls before or after the Regional Competition. 

What is the role of the Regional Organizer(s)?

A Regional Organizer(s) is a person or group of people who coordinate all logistics in order to successfully run and host a Regional Competition. A Regional Organizer is the main contact for a high school ethics bowl in a particular area. This person ensures the competition follows the mission of the NHSEB. Read more about organizing a Regional Bowl! Please also visit our Resources page for a wonderfully helpful guide for you.

Can a high school teacher organize a Regional Competition?

A high school teacher can organize a Regional Competition. Although not ideal, the NHSEB will support a teacher-organizer if they ensure they will not match teams, select cases, or keep score. It is important the teacher-organizer discloses if they are coaching a team in the competition.

The NHSEB prefers a University and/or College to host and organize a Regional Competitions. A University will help remove any biases when selecting judges and scoring the competition. A teacher with the help of a University can also co-organize a competition. That is a great partnership! Please contact us to find out more and to get support to start a new Regional.

I’m interested in organizing a Regional Competition, how do I start?

Awesome! The first step is to send an email with your name, location, and affiliation to ethicsbowl@unc.edu

Is there a list of Regional Competitions?

A complete list of Regional Competitions can be found here.

Who participates in a High School Ethics Bowl?

High school students between 9th and 12th grade—whether in public, private, charter, magnet, independent, dual enrollment, or home schools— can participate in a team at a high school ethics bowl. Teams are composed of three to seven students with three to five students seated on a team in any one match. High school teachers usually serve as the coach or team advisor. It is permissible for parents to coach a team if approved by the high school administration. Other participants include judges, moderators, and general event volunteers. These roles can be fulfilled by community members, local professionals, and faculty, adjunct instructors, graduate, and undergraduate students from a nearby University, College, or Community College.

Do Judges need a background in Philosophy?

No. It is not required for judges to have a degree or training in Philosophy. The NHSEB recommends judges come from diverse backgrounds. Some are philosophers or professional ethicists; others come from a range of fields such as business, education, medicine, journalism; and some are fans of ethics bowls.

What is the cost of organizing a High School Ethics Bowl?

A Regional Competition can cost between $500 to $3,000. The cost of the competition depends on the number of teams, inclusion of  different event components, catering, and awards and memorabilia. The cost of administrative, venue rental, and copying/printing services are other expenditures to keep in mind.

When is the best time to host a competition?

The NHSEB season begins early September with the release of the Regional ethics case set and concludes early February. Many Regional Competitions occur between December and February.  We advise Regional Organizers to provide teams with at least two months of preparation time. Additionally, when scheduling a Regional Competition please be aware of other high school academic events: ACT, SAT, Speech and Debate tournaments, Winter Break, and Exam Days.

How long does the competition last?

A Regional Competition is an all-day event held on either a Saturday or Sunday. The event can last between 8 to 10 hours. The length depends on a variety of factors: number of teams, number of preliminary round, providing breakfast and lunch, and including a plenary session, awards ceremony, and judges’ and moderators’ training.

A high school ethics bowl  competition is divided into rounds: preliminary rounds, quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. Each round is typically scheduled for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

What is the difference between a match and a round?

A match features two teams meeting face-to-face. Multiple matches can take place within a round. A Regional Competition includes three to four preliminary rounds, quarterfinals/semifinals, and finals.

Where do you host a regional competition?

A University/College campus is an ideal location for a Regional Competition. A Regional Competition can also take place at a high school, community center, library, conference center. When choosing a venue consider several possible accommodations: access to several rooms (depending on number of matches) and lecture hall/small auditorium, AV equipment, permitted food and drink, accessible facilities, and possible distractions.

Does the NHSEB have a registration fee?

The NHSEB requires all high schools competing in a Regional Competition to register at least four weeks before their competition. The registration fee is $75 per school. In the event of a economic hardship or other sustaining factors, a school should contact the NHSEB Executive Committee for scholarship opportunities. Additionally, the NHSEB will waive registration fees for an entire Regional Competition if all schools fall under the registration exemptions. Register your school here

Can a Regional Competition have a registration fee?

Yes. A Regional Competition may charge an additional registration fee for participating schools in order to cover event expenses. The NHSEB recommends this registration fee be no higher than $50 per school.

Is there any financial support for a regional competition?

Currently, the NHSEB does not provide Regional Competitions with financial support. The NHSEB will provide assistance to organizers with grants and fundraising tasks such as reviewing proposals or writing letters of support. In the future, we hope to distribute small stipends to Regionals in need of financial assistance.

Is there any financial support for teams traveling to the Nationals?

Yes, the NHSEB provides a travel stipend to teams traveling to the Nationals. In order to qualify for a travel stipend, teams must complete a travel stipend application. Teams will receive the travel stipend in the form of a check after the Nationals. In the event of an economic hardship, the NHSEB will sponsor a team to compete at the Nationals.

What type of awards are given to teams at the Nationals? 

At the Nationals, the top four ranking teams (2 finalists and 2 semifinalists) receive trophies and the Marc Sanders Prize. The Marc Sanders Prize awards these top 4 teams with a prize of $4,000 per team. One team will also receive the Bob Ladenson Spirit of the Ethics Bowl Award. The Bob Ladenson Spirit of the Ethics Bowl Award is given to the team that best embodies the spirt and ideals of the ethics bowl as voted on by their competitors.

Does the NHSEB have rules?

Yes, the National High School Ethics Bowl Rules, Procedures, and Guidelines. This document is updated seasonally and can be found on the NHSEB website. Regional Competitions are encouraged to use the NHSEB Rules, Guidelines, and Procedures.

Can the NHSEB Rules, Guidelines, and Procedures be modified?

Experimentation with the NHSEB format is welcomed with approval by the NHSEB Executive Committee. Regional Organizers should notify the NHSEB Executive Committee about any modifications and report the effects of these changes after the competition.

What topics are discussed in a High School Ethics Bowl?

A high school ethics bowl gives students the opportunity to learn about applied ethics through the analysis, research, and critical discussion of case studies that incorporate real world ethical conflicts from politics, business, international affairs, popular culture, and their personal lives. Previous topics included: breastfeeding in public, using photoshop in advertising, dating a friend’s ex, ecotourism, criminal background checks, and reporting in a school newspaper.

Do I need to write ethics cases for my competition?

No. The NHSEB releases a regional case set and supplemental moderator questions in early September for Regional Organizers to use for their competition.

Do teams competing in a High School Ethics Bowl need to use ethical or philosophical theory?

Teams do not need to reference specific ethicists or ethical theories: doing so is not a requirement of a good answer, nor is it indicative of a poor answer. The argument matters; it is not necessary to name the philosopher associated with the argument. Keep in mind that a team is speaking to a broad audience: some judges might have no formal background in philosophy or ethics, and may not understand a student’s reference to “Kantianism.” A good strategy is to explain ethical reasoning in terms everyone can understand. Philosophical name-dropping is not a substitute for presenting a sound argument.

Is there a dress code?

No. Students should dress in a way that makes them feel comfortable.

What is the different between a large and small Regional Competition?

Regional Competitions are recognized as Large or Small depending on the number of reported participating schools (not teams) to the NHSEB.  Large Regionals have the most number of schools in the regional competition field. The winning school of a Large Regional will automatically advance to the Nationals. Small Regionals have the lowest number of competing schools. The winning school of a Small Regional will compete in a Virtual Playoff against the winner of another Small Regional. The winner of the virtual playoff will advance to the Nationals. The NHSEB will communicate regional sizing to each organizer. 

What is a Virtual Bowl Playoff?

The winning schools of small regional bowls will compete in a virtual bowl playoff to qualify for the Nationals. This playoff will consist of a single match between two teams using Google Hangouts. Small regional playoffs will be matched according to time zone region and/or on a rolling basis (e.g. if two small regionals take place on the same weekend). When the NHSEB season concludes in early February, there is a two week period for the playoffs. The winner of the virtual bowl playoff will qualify for the Nationals.

When and where are the Nationals?

The Nationals take place each April at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If I have specific questions, who can I contact?

If you have additional, please send an email to ethicsbowl@unc.edu or take a look at our many resources!