Play helps students debate issues Ethical dilemmas presented in drama

Students in Howard County's magnet technology high schools are getting a taste this week of the ethical and moral dilemmas they're likely to face in the high-tech careers of the 21st century -- by watching a play.

The magnet students are seeing a drama called "The Cutting Edge" that looks at recent advances in biotechnology and asks the ethical questions those advances are raising.


"It really makes you think," said River Hill High School freshman Kimani Feaster, 14, after seeing the play's first performance. "Whether you're in computers or in biotechnology, the questions we're going to be facing with technology will be very difficult."

More than 350 River Hill students -- including those in the magnet program and some in drama and biology classes -- saw the play yesterday, and students at Long Reach High School, the county's other magnet site, are scheduled to see it this morning.


The magnet program -- designed for students of all abilities -- is meant to be a rigorous, high-tech replacement for the county's vocational-technical program.

Students in the popular program focus on such areas as communications, construction and engineering and -- of particular interest for this week's play -- biotechnology.

"The Cutting Edge" -- written by Jason Kravits of New York and put on by the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts' Imagination Stage -- is a 45-minute drama about a high school student wondering whether to be tested for the gene that has caused her sister to go blind.

The play is partially funded by the Maryland Bioscience Alliance-Suburban Maryland High Technology Council, which is trying to promote high-tech education in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

"It shows students some of the social and ethical challenges faced by those in high-technology careers," said Edwin Gosnell, who works in the county's technology magnet office. "The students will be spending a lot of time on those kind of questions in the [11th-grade] practicum."

In the play, the characters struggle with the implications of testing for a recessive, disease-causing gene -- grappling with the question of what they should do if they know they are likely to pass along the disease to their children.

The play includes enough background information on genes and DNA for all students to understand what's happening and offers a couple of humorous asides about the extremes of manipulating genes in humans.

At the conclusion of the play, the four actors hold a question-and-answer session with the students, remaining in character as they encourage the students to consider what they would do in similar situations.


"It's very newsworthy right now," said the play's director, Janet Stanford, referring to the recent announcement that Scottish scientists had successfully cloned a sheep. "The students are being drawn into a very engaging high-tech discussion that's right off the front page."

The play has been shown at about 20 schools, mostly in Montgomery County, Stanford said. She said the group plans to do shows in Virginia next year and also hopes to perform at a biotechnology conference in Houston this summer.

For River Hill students, the play showed them that the high-tech world they're preparing for won't be devoid of human emotions.

"There are really important choices that we'll be facing in the future," said Leslie Wang, 15, a sophomore in River Hill's magnet program. The play held particular interest for her because her brother died of cystic fibrosis and she figures that she's a carrier of the disease.

"These decisions are life-and-death kind of things that affect all of us," Leslie said. "We need more things like this that help show us what we're going to be facing some day."

Pub Date: 3/11/97