Masuk High School will be represented among the 24 teams competing in the 2023 National High School Ethics Bowl National Championship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill this spring.
A team of seven students won the states at the University of Connecticut, then won over all three judges in the regionals, which was held virtually, to earn the right to compete in North Carolina from March 31 to April 2.
“Even though the score was 3-0, the judges said it was close,” Ariq Rahman, a sophomore, said of the match against Woodbridge Academy, a magnet school from New Jersey.
“I thought we were gonna lose,” Ellie Cremin admitted with a grin. “Sometimes a judge is really nice and seems engaged, then votes against you,”
“It can be 3-0 by very thin margins,” Alexander Malecki, a junior, explained. “It’s a fine line and sometimes you have to pray you’re on the right side.”
The seven teammates of Masuk’s ethics team met for an interview in Coach Megan Bartosik’s classroom at Masuk Wednesday mornings
Bartosik, who is a social studies teacher, became involved last year, when a group of students in the Philosophy Club, for which she is an advisor, approached her about starting a team.
“It can be 3-0 by very thin margins. It’s a fine line and sometimes you have to pray you’re on the right side.” — Alexander Malecki, a Masuk junior
“Because they were such great students, I said yes,” Bartosik recalled. “They’ve been so wonderful in how they’ve come together, in all age ranges, to go to nationals. Some seniors I’ve had as freshmen. It’s so great seeing them go all the way to Chapel Hill, and they will probably go on to compete on college teams.”
“I think they’ve taken it and ran with it. They’ve been extremely successful — and quickly,” Principal Steve Swensen said. “The students and their families are making a commitment to compete live at the nationals, which is awesome. No matter how they do at the competition, they’ll remember the experience for the rest of their lives.”
What’s an Ethics Bowl?
The National High School Ethics Bowl promotes respectful, supportive and rigorous discussion of ethics among thousands of high school students nationwide, according to the organization’s website.
Its format is “rooted in ongoing dialogue and deliberation: a series of two-way exchanges between equals. It is designed to get students thinking, talking, and ultimately working together on some of the toughest moral issues of our time.”
“The principal in me has to be proud, because obviously their teachers helped prepare them with their communication and critical thinking skills,” Swensen said. “These are the skills that contribute to success in these types of competitions.”
Teams have several months to prepare for 15 cases and during the match, a moderator asks a question from one without teams knowing which topic it will be.
There are two rounds with each team having a chance to present a position while the other asks questions during a discussion. Three judges decide which team won based on presentations, asking thoughtful questions and being respectful to each other, even when ideas differ.
“NHSEB’s objective is to do more than teach students how to think through ethical issues: It is to teach students how to think through ethical issues together, as fellow citizens in a complex moral and political community,” according to the organization’s website.
A traditional Chinese school
Masuk had two teams this year, but the one that made it to nationals includes Rahman, Cremin, Malecki, senior Amna Al-Azdee, sophomore Taylor Brunelle, senior Shahad Faiz, and sophomore Casey Frangus.
“The eclectic group of students involved shows their ability to be empathetic and compassionate towards everybody,” Swensen said.
To state their case on a position, the first thing a team must do is agree on their stance.
“I think we learned to compromise, so there’s more time to work on our argument and what we’re gonna say,” Al-Azdee said.
During regionals, Woodbridge Academy presented a position on whether a traditional Chinese school option is ethically okay or if dividing people by ethnic backgrounds is too divisive.
“Even if you agree with them, you can pick it apart if you think it’s a bad argument,” Rahman said.
“Their stance was it was wrong, so we built off it,” Faiz added.
If the option were to be available, Faiz said his team asked if there were other opportunities to make cultural connections in the community.
When it was Masuk’s turn to present a position, they were asked about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and the question of how much power parents should have in education.
Similar to a democracy, Faiz said Masuk’s team expressed support for an education system in which everyone has a voice, but not the final say.
Al-Azdee said this is so a few parents cannot dictate what is taught and what is not.
Rahman said they supported an option for parents to request a waiver for their child on “controversial topics” they do not want them to be exposed to, but not for basic subjects like math.
Competing in person
Last year, during Masuk’s first season participating in the Ethics Bowl, all matches were online in a virtual format. But this year, the team traveled to UConn where 10 teams from eight schools competed in person. Masuk won 10 of 12 possible votes in its matches.
“It’s a lot better to be in person, because when you’re online you’re all by yourself,” Brunelle said.
“My camera was dying,” Malecki said of his experience, sparking laughter from his teammates. “It was all different colors.”
Over its first two years, Masuk has faced teams with long traditions of competing in the Ethics Bowl. Among them, Hotchkiss School of Salisbury won states five years in a row.
Bartosik said she believes Masuk will continue to field teams, while building its own history in the annual competitions. She said younger students will participate on teams over the next few years and noted the growing popularity, as tryouts where held this year.
Hotchkiss and Masuk are the only two Connecticut teams that will compete in the Ethics Bowl National Championship in Chapel Hill.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” Frangus said. “We started last year, so this is our second year and we’re going to nationals, which is crazy.”