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While most students were sleeping in on their summer vacation, 15 eager young minds gathered the morning of June 22 at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland to learn more about U.S. agriculture policy, the fall debate topic for home-schoolers.

The students were attendees of a special workshop designed to offer debaters a headstart on the upcoming academic debate season. Attendees listened as Gregory Rehmke, director of program development with the New York-based Foundation for Economic Education, stressed the ways in which students can employ economic arguments to present a solid case.

Since 1988, the Mackinac Center has helped over 7,000 public, private, and home-schooled students and their coaches through such workshops hosted annually in Midland and other cities including Grand Rapids, Livonia, Jackson, and Grayling.

At the workshops, students hear informative speakers, receive free materials, and get up-to-date news and research so they can begin the debate season armed with an arsenal of new knowledge.

Each year, the National Forensic League selects the resolution debated by public and private school students. The 2001 topic is, "Resolved: The United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction."

The home-school debate topic is selected by the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association.

Throughout the debate season, all students are required to demonstrate an ability to debate both sides of the issue, weighing evidence from an objective point of view.

Students and coaches who participated in past workshops are pleased with the depth of material and unique approach provided.

"All the free material that was handed to [my students]; the different books and articles were very helpful," says Ucal Finley, debate coach at St. Martin DePorres High School in Detroit. She adds that the most important skills her students learned through the conference were speaking in public with confidence and discovering how to research academic issues.

Anna Lopez, debate coach at public Lee M. Thurston High School in Redford, has participated with her students in the debate workshops for the past five years because she believes it's important her students "look at both sides of an issue."

"When they hear one side they know there is always another," she says. "They also know to look at the facts and to be able to back up their beliefs, their side with evidence."

The Mackinac Center's 2001 fall workshops will be held Sept. 18 to Sept. 27 in Livonia, Jackson, Grand Rapids, and Midland. All students, whether they attend the workshops or not, have round-the-clock access to a wealth of debate research and information at www.mackinac.org/features/debate, including the interactive "Ask the Debate Coach" feature, a free service that provides answers to students' research questions within 48 hours.

For media coverage on Debate Workshops 2001, see The Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, The Jackson Citizen Patriot, and Midland.