CHAPEL HILL-A local high school has earned semi-final honors in a UNC-hosted competition designed to encourage discussion among young people about various ethical issues.

This year marked the first-ever National High School Ethics Bowl, which was held in Chapel Hill April 19-20, and East Chapel Hill High School finished among the top four finalists. UNC Faculty Chair Jan Boxill says the event is, in some ways, similar to a debate—but in another sense, it’s very different.

“It’s a competitive yet collaborative event where students analyze and discuss real-life, timely ethical issues,” she says. “It differs from debate in that the students aren’t assigned opposing views. Rather, they defend whatever position they believe is the right one, and they win by showing that they’ve thought more carefully, deeply and perceptively about the cases in question.”

Along with East Chapel Hill, a team made up of homeschooled students in the Triangle area also made the semifinal round. St. Petersburg High School of Florida and Farmingdale High School of New York were the other teams in the final four; St. Petersburg ultimately took the championship by two points. The Bowl was created and hosted by UNC’s Parr Center for Ethics.

The National High School Ethics Bowl is modeled after the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, which includes UNC and has been hosted for 17 years by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. Although this was the high school bowl’s first official year at the national level, Boxill says the Parr Center first started working on the concept several years ago.

“About three years ago is where we saw other universities going out into their high school communities,” she says. “Most of the students here originally started in the debate clubs, but they didn’t like the polarizing and antagonistic way that some of the discussions went. So, this is a more civil discourse.”

Boxill says faculty members at the Parr Center have already begun working the next year’s Regional High School Ethics Bowl, which will take place this November, along with next spring’s National High School Ethics Bowl—and the list of possible ethical issues up for discussion covers a wide range of different topics.

“For example, we have Facebook and social media, and creative sentencing—that is whether the punishment fits the crime, or whether it’s for public good,” she says. “We also have pay for play, or the whole question of whether athletes should get paid, and things like the separation of conjoined twins. These are all real questions that we take out of newspapers, televisions, or right here on campus.”

Sixteen teams participated in the National High School Ethics Bowl, representing eleven different states and Washington D.C. Twelve regional ethics bowls led up to the nationwide competition.