Houston high school students explore ethical questions at Rice

Houston high school students explore ethical questions at Rice

On a Friday morning in mid-June, a group of 15 high school students who were gathered in Rice’s Humanities Building intently read over a case study describing the massive amounts of electronic waste from developed countries that end up in China, India and developing West African nations. Among the questions posed to them: Is it morally permissible for developed nations to sell potentially hazardous e-waste to willing buyers in developing nations?

The assignment was part of Ethics and Society, a new three-week summer program that was offered by Rice’s Department of Philosophy. The students were introduced to theoretical conceptions of justice and normative ethics. “We do that largely here in the classroom,” said program coordinator Adam Valenstein, a teacher at the John Cooper School in The Woodlands. “During the second week, we go out into the world. We learn how ethics and ethical decision-making play a role in the lives of professionals in different organizations.”

The broad vision for the camp was set by Valenstein, who had worked with the Philosophy Department in organizing the annual Houston High School Ethics Bowl, which has been held at Rice since 2014. The curriculum was developed and led by Peter Zuk and Brandon Williams, two advanced doctoral students in the Philosophy Department.