9th Grade Ethics Project Culminates in Debates

9th Grade Ethics Project Culminates in Debates

January 30, 2018 – In early January, the 9th grade began a unit entitle “The Ethical Debate.” The unit, which combines history and English classes into a double block, gives 9th graders the opportunity to grapple with complicated ethical issues that they will be confronted with as they continue to mature into adulthood. The goal is not to convince anyone of a “proper” stance on any of the issues, but rather to encourage students to understand ethics and how ethics influence actions people take.  The project allows for the investigation of the ambiguous nature of various issues, hoping to make it apparent that while one might feel strongly about one’s own views, one’s perspective might not be the only valid one.  The unit included daily work, readings, personal response essays, and short position papers.

The project culminated last week with all freshmen participating in Ethical Debates. In pairs or teams of three, students investigated a major ethical issue, drafted a resolution, and wrote cases for each side. Some of the issues that students debated this year include the requirement of smartphone manufacturers to deactivate encryption for law enforcement, the military’s use of drone strikes, the abolition of the SATs, and the discontinuation of high school and college football due to player safety. Students prepared cases for each side, but they did not discover which side of the resolution they would debate until a coin flip thirty minutes before their performance.

Round after round, students worked to promote their points and undermine those of their opponents. After about forty minutes the debates concluded, but the students continued to talk about their performance and the performance of their peers. Much like other events that punctuate the Seattle Academy experience, the ethical debates broadened and deepened the students’ understanding of one another and themselves.

Above: 9th graders Helen Bellew, Sidney Liu, and Yonase Geleta confer during their debate.