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HomePhilosophySyllabus Showcase: Ethics Bowl and Democratic Deliberation, Michael Vazquez

Syllabus Showcase: Ethics Bowl and Democratic Deliberation, Michael Vazquez


This submit is about an experiential training course I redesigned and have taught two occasions at UNC-Chapel Hill (Fall ‘20 and ‘21). As an experiential course, it includes frequent interactions with group companions. As a seminar, it includes sustained examine of normative ethics, democratic concept, and pre-college pedagogy. To present you a way of the vary of potentialities for experiential choices in philosophy distinct from this one, I’ll point out two different examples:

  • I’ve additionally designed and taught an experiential training course on intergenerational philosophy (entitled “Philosophy Throughout the Lifespan”) by which UNC undergraduates interact in philosophical dialogue with older adults in our area people.
  • Universities throughout the nation supply philosophy programs by which undergraduates put together for and take part within the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (that is an instance of an experiential training course that isn’t basically community-facing, and so not “service-learning”).

Within the course I’ll focus on right here (“Ethics Bowl and Democratic Deliberation”), UNC undergraduates coached and suggested highschool Ethics Bowl college students throughout the nation. To place the underside line up entrance, there are two takeaways I want to share:

  1. This course is replicable and adaptable. The precise particulars will fluctuate from case to case, however the primary contours of my course can be utilized as the premise for various types of engagement with Ethics Bowl (e.g. Center College Ethics Bowl teaching and Excessive College Ethics Bowl teaching, in particular person or just about) and extra usually for different community-engaged programs in philosophy.
  2. This course is layered. This class is a chance for undergraduates to find out about and apply philosophical ethics via case-based reasoning. It’s also a chance for undergraduates to assist highschool college students find out about and apply philosophical ethics via case-based reasoning. The component of group partnership creates but extra layers after all design and content material: engagement with highschool college students is an event to study and follow the talent of facilitation; and Ethics Bowl as an exercise invitations reflection on the philosophical underpinnings of our democracy and the civic goals of training.

I’m very lucky to show within the Philosophy Division at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is dwelling to the Parr Middle for Ethics and, by extension, the Nationwide Excessive College Ethics Bowl. Ethics Bowls come in numerous styles and sizes, however right here is one pithy description of the exercise:

An ethics bowl is a aggressive but collaborative occasion by which college students focus on well timed real-life moral points. In every spherical of competitors, groups take turns analyzing moral instances and responding to questions and feedback from one other workforce and a panel of judges. (Supply:

Previously, college students enrolled on this course served as coaches for the native North Carolina Excessive College Ethics Bowl. Within the face of a pandemic stopping us from working with faculties in particular person, I labored intently with my colleague and Nationwide Excessive College Ethics Bowl Director, Alex Richardson, to reimagine the community-facing dimension of the course. In a phrase, I went digital with service-learning. Throughout this time I helped launch the NHSEBBridge pilot program, whose goal is to advertise fairness and entry throughout the Nationwide Excessive College Ethics Bowl and inside our training system extra broadly. By way of NHSEBBridge, UNC undergraduates served as coaches and advisors to taking part excessive faculties throughout the nation who have been new to the exercise, culminating in an all-virtual competitors occasion. Alongside the way in which, my college students additionally offered real-time suggestions to different highschool groups and college students throughout the nation by planning and administering NHSEBAcademy pedagogy clinics and by holding common NHSEBStudio workplace hours.

The vital takeaway is that this method is adaptable. Irrespective of the place your college resides, there are alternatives to become involved with present Ethics Bowl occasions (whether or not center college or highschool), to assist begin a brand new regional competitors in your space, and, most significantly, to make use of the exercise’s deliberative format and case research to facilitate moral reflection in Ok-12 faculties and throughout the lifespan.

The Toolkit Method

Lastly, I want to spotlight a central function of my course design that may be of curiosity to somebody hoping to supply a course like this one. I name it the Toolkit Method.

Ethics Bowl supplies a deliberative format for case-based reasoning about ethics. Competitors instances cowl nearly each side of our sensible lives, starting from the mundane and interpersonal to the watershed historic and political problems with our time. There are completely different approaches one may take to instructing others purpose via these instances. In my view, I reject the reductive view in keeping with which ethical reasoning is nothing greater than the rote and senseless software of a menu of theories to concrete circumstances. That’s not solely an impoverished view of moral concept and its historical past, it’s additionally dangerous pedagogy. Concept alone is not going to present the situational discernment required to determine morally related options in advanced conditions and to make sound moral judgments about them. So, I take what I name the Toolkit Method.

The Toolkit Method supplies college students with a repertoire of ideas, distinctions, and frameworks drawn from centuries of philosophical inquiry into ethics. These are conceptual assets that illuminate and complexify moral dilemmas, slightly than fixing them in an easy or algorithmic approach. These notions are available in many styles and sizes: some are methodological (e.g. “veil of ignorance”); some are distinctions (e.g. “instrumental vs. intrinsic worth,” “types of egalitarianism”); some are common notions that present up in numerous methods in numerous normative moral frameworks (e.g. “impartiality,” “ethical standing”); and a few are extra area particular (e.g. “evidentiary requirements,” “nudging”).

There’s extra to say about why the Toolkit Method is each philosophically believable and pedagogically worthwhile (should you’re , you possibly can view a chat I gave at APPE the place I’m going into higher element), however I’ll merely add one caveat: I believe it could be a mistake to be so particularistic in our method to moral reasoning that we soar straight into the instances with out offering college students a conceptual vocabulary with which to navigate moral dilemmas and a shared language with which to disagree. That’s to say, there isan vital and vital function for normative moral concept in a course like this, even for these of us who reject the “merely utilized ethics” mannequin of case-based reasoning.

Throughout the first a part of the course (entitled “Crash Course in Normative Ethics”), I strategically pair moral toolkit notions with previous Ethics Bowl instances with the intention to inculcate the Toolkit Method from day one. Reasoning about instances and studying about moral concept in tandem facilitates the coed’s personal technique of reflective equilibrium, whereby they’re prompted repeatedly to revise and revisit their common moral commitments in mild of their intuitions and concrete ethical judgments (and vice versa). To quote one instance, an Ethics Bowl case about disciplinary practices in faculties (Case #9 in this set) can present an event for introducing competing theories of the justification of punishment, together with their broadly deontological and consequentialist foundations.

The Toolkit Method extends past normative ethics to the idea and follow of pre-college pedagogy and facilitation. Early within the semester, I introduce my college students to tried and examined pedagogical practices developed by practitioners of pre-college philosophy, together with most prominently the notion of a group of philosophical inquiry from Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp. Over the course of the semester additionally they produce a variety of pedagogical assets which function assignments within the course: an annotated Ethics Bowl case, a presentation on a case to the category, and a capstone task entitled “Ethics in College” (I’ve included a few of the task particulars instantly within the syllabus doc on your use and adaptation). Given the necessity to pack a lot into one semester, I’ve distilled lots of the core expertise related to efficient facilitation into Teaching Toolkit notions which might be distributed throughout class periods, simply because the Moral Toolkit and Case Research pairings are. Every day college students are launched to those notions (normally with an accompanying handout or slides) and given the chance to see how they present up in follow, usually with the assistance of structured in-class actions that promote dialogue and that create alternatives for peer-to-peer facilitation.

Once I educate this course and others prefer it, I wish to conclude with a unit on democratic concept and philosophy of training. Ethics Bowl as an exercise invitations us to replicate on the foundational beliefs of liberal democracy, the norms that ought to govern disagreement inside it, and the type of training match for guaranteeing its continuity, stability, and success. In my opinion, a course like this places bedrock democratic beliefs into follow by contributing to the ethical and civic training of oldsters throughout the nation and throughout the lifespan. On this approach, it serves as a testomony to the public character and objective of upper training.

The Syllabus Showcase of the APA Weblog is designed to share insights into the syllabi of philosophy educators. We embody syllabi of their authentic, unedited format that showcase all kinds of philosophy courses.  We might love so that you can be part of this venture. Please contact Sequence Editor, Dr. Matt Deaton by way of or Editor of the Instructing Beat, Dr. Sabrina D. MisirHiralall by way of with potential submissions.

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Michael Vazquez

Michael Vazquez is Instructing Assistant Professor and Director of Outreach within the Division of Philosophy and the Parr Middle for Ethics on the College of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A specialist in Historical Greek & Roman Philosophy, he obtained his PhD in Philosophy from the College of Pennsylvania in Could 2020.


Victoria Joy
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