High school debaters hone their skills at Mackinac Center workshops

Arguing for and against federal aid to sub-Saharan Africa

Greg Rehmke
Greg Rehmke, director of educational programs for Economic Thinking/E Pluribus Unum Films, shows examples of the coverage given to African affairs by American magazines as he speaks to debate workshop participants in Traverse City.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy concluded its 20th annual High School Debate Workshop in late September, hosting more than 450 students and teachers from nearly 30 schools.

Students heard from three national speakers on this year’s topic, "Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its public health assistance to sub-Saharan Africa." The workshops are designed to help the students prepare to argue both for and against the given topic in debate competitions throughout the country, involving more than 100,000 students annually.

Workshops this year were held in Livonia, Adrian, Grand Rapids and Traverse City, drawing a mix of conventional public, charter public, parochial and independent schools. Speakers included Greg Rehmke, director of educational programs for Economic Thinking/E Pluribus Unum Films; Mike Winther, a former high school and college debater and now a debate coach; and Dr. Rich Edwards, professor of communication studies and debate coach at Baylor University, Texas.

The speakers addressed debate methodology and tactics, as well as discussing the economic impact of foreign aid and how well it has been put to use in the past. Points that students discussed during the workshops included research on how foreign aid is often misappropriated by dictatorial governments, methods of disease prevention that have proven successful in the past (such as the use of DDT to fight malaria) and the moral arguments against coercing taxpayers into funding foreign aid when nonprofit groups raise money from willing donors.

High schools that participated in the workshops were: Conner Creek Academy, Saginaw Heritage, Livonia Stevenson, Heart Academy, Brother Rice, Henry Ford, Northville, Hudson, Lenawee Christian, Adrian, Blissfield, South Christian, Holt, Grand Rapids City, Zion Christian, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Northview, North Hills Classical Academy, Forrest Hills, Unity Christian, Frankfort, Bellaire, Traverse City Central, Traverse City West, Petoskey, Gaylord and East Jordan.

The Center asks each participant to fill out evaluation forms in order to improve the workshops from one year to the next. One student, although just a beginner, wrote that she learned so much from the experience, "I feel like I am confident enough to go to the state finals."

Another student said she appreciates the workshops because she feels high school debate is "underappreciated" and "it’s nice to have an activity that supports the activity."

JoAnne Peterson, debate coach from Grand Rapids City High School, said although the workshop will help her team in the upcoming season, "The impact on the future and investment in our young people is the most powerful gift of all."

For the third consecutive year, workshop participants have an opportunity to win a $1,000 college scholarship if they choose to participate in an essay contest sponsored by the Center. Winners will be announced in the spring of 2008.