By Michael Vazquez, Ph.D.

As readers of a philosophy blog, you probably do not need to be convinced that philosophy is a worthwhile activity. You may already think—as I do—that engaging in philosophical reflection is valuable for its own sake. But many of us also like to think that doing philosophy has good consequences. For example, it may contribute to students’ cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Ask around and you will likely find that many teachers and practitioners feel as though this is the case. Indeed, students often say so themselves. For example, students participating in the National High School Ethics Bowl reported the following (2022-2023):

● 92% strongly agreed or agreed that NHSEB helps foster teamwork and collaboration
among students.
● 89% strongly agreed or agreed that NHSEB is unlike any other activity available in their
high schools.
● 82% strongly agreed or agreed that they were now interested in studying philosophy
and/or ethics.
● 95% strongly agreed or agreed that NHSEB encourages thoughtful engagement with
differing views.
● 99% strongly agreed or agreed that NHSEB encourages critical thinking skills
(Source: nhseb.org)

Reports like this are encouraging, especially when paired with countless testimonials from students and coaches that have accumulated over the years. Even so, they provide only limited evidence. More than anything, these self-reports and testimonials are an invitation to gather stronger evidence. But moving beyond anecdata will not happen overnight. To do so, we need to play the long game.

In particular, we should embrace the following principles:

  1. Patience: we need more data about the impact of precollege philosophy programs, collected in a systematic fashion over long periods of time.
  2. Collaboration: we should work together across disciplinary, professional, and institutional boundaries to collect and analyze data, leveraging our community’s diversity of methodological expertise, social capital, and financial resources.
  3. Humility: we should keep an open mind about what the data reveal, making a concerted effort to seek out evidence that might upend our initial assumptions.

At the Parr Center for Ethics at UNC-Chapel Hill—my home institution—we have been working with coaches, students, and schools across the country to measure the impact of the Ethics Bowl.We have plenty of hunches about the positive outcomes Ethics Bowl might promote, but we need to put them to the test. So, during the Fall 2024 semester we are recruiting high school students across the country to participate in a survey-based study.

To all the Ethics Bowl coaches, high school teachers, and educational professionals out there: we need your help! Our study requires two groups of students at each school: some Ethics Bowl students and some non-Ethics Bowl students. Participating students will complete four online surveys (10-15 minutes) at designated times between the months of October and December. Students can complete the surveys at any time during the designated week-long windows, whether in class or at home on their own time.

This study will provide a simple way to help us better understand the impact of ethics education on high school students. In addition, we are offering a $350 gift card to every school that participates in the study by having both groups of students complete all four surveys within the designated time periods. If you are interested in having your students participate this fall, please fill out this interest form: go.unc.edu/nhseb-study-interest

You can stay tuned for updates on our landing page: parrcenter.unc.edu/nhseb-study We hope you will consider joining us as we do our part to measure the impact of precollege philosophy programs that we all cherish.

Interested in sharing your work on impact assessment or in getting in touch with others doing this work? Reach out to the PLATO Research Committee using the ‘Contact Us’ form!


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