Ethics Club takes on ‘Nova


Ellen Johnson

Debate Team outside of Villanova.

Ellie Bradley, News Writer

The Ethics Debate Team was a new club here at Wilmington Friends five years ago, and since then, has not received its fair share of attention in the school community. The club participates in yearly competitions, competing against others schools in an all-day event. This year’s competition took place on November 18th at Villanova University. Students challenge each other by bringing forth their ideas for what is morally and logically correct in a given situation. These could be anything, from whether students should have their acceptance to Harvard revoked because of offensive online comments, to whether driverless cars should protect the person within them or the person they’re hitting in the case of an accident. Most of the designated cases are based in reality, though this is not a requirement. The fifteen scenarios, which are all the same and given to every group, are considered and processed before the competition in club meetings. On the day of the competition, participants come prepared to discuss six of these fifteen possible topics.

Ms. Johnson has worked with the Ethics Debate group since its start, and her love for the subject was very apparent in conversation with her. Also teaching a MSON course that relates to ethics, she is the perfect teacher to guide students and help them work through tough cases up until the day of the competition. The team started when she went to a conference held by a professor at Penn, and learned that other educators were trying to spread these types of ethical debates from the college level down to high schools. Inspired, she started the club with a small group of students and their first competition was held at Morristown Friends School. Today, the club yields eleven people, which Johnson affirmed was a good number. However, she mentioned that the club has not gained much attention and lacks support. While organizing auditions is out of the question, as it might intimidate some students too much, Ms. Johnson wishes that there were a class to teach potential club members about philosophy. Of course there are classes offered, like Theory of Knowledge and her own MSON course, but these are both classes that have very limited numbers compared to the whole student body.

Upon being asked why she enjoys ethics debates, Ms. Johnson’s face lit up into a huge smile. It was clear how passionate she was about these ideas and this club. “I just really like the idea that you’re in a conversation, not an argument”, she said, as well as noting that “it’s not just someone’s opinion…. the competitions are a continuous dialogue, and not an aggressive one”. In fact, students gain points from demonstrating good listening. The way that a winner is chosen through conversation without aggression is very different from competitions like Mock Trial, or even a classical style debate. The “peaceful” means by which the competition is conducted links well to our school’s Quaker values, among them the themes of peace, community, and equality.

Ms. Johnson also mentioned how through the Ethics Debate Team, students “learn how to grow a conversation”. This is no doubt an important skill, and one that can be seen in many classrooms around school on any given day. The club is constantly honing these skills and expanding students’ thought processes when it comes to difficult situations. In future years, hopefully the club will continue to grow and to fuel new members’ excitement for ethical questions and debating. Make sure to congratulate this year’s team on their hard work and accomplishments!