Terrorism experts headline debate workshops

Students gain perspective on foreign policy, weapons of mass destruction

Students gathered at full-day workshops throughout the state in September to hear perspectives on terrorism from national foreign policy experts at the 14th annual High School Debate Workshops, sponsored by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

One week after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., hundreds of Michigan high school students gathered in four cities to learn about terrorism, U.S. foreign policy, and weapons of mass destruction.

It was all part of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's 14th annual High School Debate Workshops, held Sept. 18-27 in Grand Rapids, Jackson, Livonia, and Midland.

Expert speakers from New York and Washington provided 330 debate students from 28 public, charter, and private schools around the state with information on the 2001 high school debate topic, "Resolved: That the United States federal government should establish a foreign policy significantly limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction."

The annual debate topic, which is debated by over 100,000 students across the country, is selected each January by state and national debate officials.

Students in Livonia and Jackson learned debate techniques and information from speakers including terrorism expert Ivan Eland, director of defense policy at the Washington-based Cato Institute; Gregory Rehmke, director of the New York-based Foundation for Economic Education's (FEE) High School Speech and Debate Program; and David Beers, a debate expert and consultant with FEE.

Speakers in Grand Rapids and Midland included Rehmke; Gary Leff, director of development for George Mason University's Institute for Humane Studies and former California state championship debate coach; and Doug Bandow, senior fellow with the Cato Institute and frequent author and lecturer on foreign policy issues.

Speakers lectured and discussed with students topics including types of weapons of mass destruction, the nature and causes of terrorism, the importance of sound foreign and economic policies, and current defense programs and proposals.

"[Eland] was amazing," Lida Ataie, a junior at public Dearborn High School, told the Detroit Free Press. "He opens your mind to new ideas. He gave so many different views and looked at the long-term effects, but not only from the American perspective."

For 14 years, Mackinac Center High School Debate Workshops have equipped debaters with winning ideas. Southwestern High School (Detroit), the 1993 Detroit Public School Debate League champion, and Calvary Baptist Academy (Midland), winner of the 1996 American Association of Christian Schools' debate championship, both applied ideas and techniques learned at the Center's workshops. More than 7,000 students have honed their forensic skills at past debate workshops.

But no previous debate workshop gained the media coverage and attention from attendees that this year's did.

"The traumatic events of Sept. 11 imparted a degree of gravity to the discussions at the recent debate workshops; it seemed to engage the students and enable them to better grasp the seriousness of the subject at hand," said Mackinac Center Programs Director Catherine Martin. "Students came away from the workshops with not only a better ability to form a coherent, reasoned argument, but also with a better understanding of the issues facing America."

The debate workshops are held every fall and are open to public, private, and charter school students from around the state. The Mackinac Center also offers a workshop for home-school students. For more information, visit the Mackinac Center web site at www.mackinac.org/features/debate/.