The Bowl is more than half full

<Cross-posted at In Socrates’ Wake>

I wanted to put in a plug for what is certainly one
of the best pedagogical developments in philosophy over the past
decade: Ethics Bowl. I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with this competition and its value as a teaching tool.
I’ll only add my own observations here about the value of Ethics Bowl
as a teaching tool and invite others to discuss their experiences with
it. (I also have some tips for those interested in getting Ethics Bowl
started on their campus, so please contact me if you’re interested.)

As I see it, Ethics Bowl provides three things that are very hard to come by in traditional philosophy classroom settings:


Immediacy
: One of the challenges of both teaching and studying
philosophy is that its value is sometimes not immediately evident. From
the student’s point of view, it may not be obvious how studying
philosophical questions changes you in terms of your skills and
attitudes. From an instructor’s point of view, it’s often frustrating
to think that whatever benefit studying philosophy has for students,
that benefit may not be tangible until many years down the road, well
after students have graduated (and you’ve lost all contact with them).
Because it’s a competitive public event, Ethics Bowl makes the benefit
of studying philosophy evident fairly quickly, in a way that is
gratifying to students and instructor alike.

Publicity: Ethics Bowl
puts the value of philosophy (and other disciplines insofar as they
concern themselves with ethical questions) in the public eye. For
students, the chance to prove their mettle before experts who aren’t
their instructors can be a powerful motivator, and when successful, a
powerful way of vindicating their efforts.  And because Ethics Bowl is
a team event, it counteracts the common picture of philosophy as a
discipline that progresses thanks to the contributions of solitary
geniuses.

Practicality: Ethics Bowl
shows that the study of philosophy (and ethics, in particular) is
relevant to life outside the classroom.  The cases often involve
problems in their communities, workplaces, etc. that students may have
to confront directly later in life.  In this regard, I think it
instills a kind of ethical sensibility — a kind of radar for ethical
phenomena — that is difficult to instill through traditional classroom
teaching.

(And on a side note: My Cal Poly Pomona squad won the California
Regional Ethics Bowl on Saturday.  A hearty congratulations to them!)

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