Addiction, insanity discussions provide students with fodder for debate competitions

Debate workshops feature nationally renowned debate experts

Debate Speaker
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy's 15th Annual High School Debate Workshops provided over 400 students and coaches with information from nationally renowned experts on mental health policy and debate.

Should the United States substantially increase public health services for mental health care? Is a mental illness the same as a physical illness? Should drug treatment be required in place of prison sentences for criminal drug offenders?

These are just a few of the questions tackled at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy's 15th Annual High School Debate Workshops, held this fall in Grand Rapids, Jackson, Livonia, and Midland.

Expert speakers from around the country provided over 400 students and coaches from public, charter, and private schools around the state with information on the 2002 high school debate topic, "Resolved: That the United States federal government should substantially increase public health services for mental health care in the United States."

The annual debate topic, which is debated by over 100,000 students across the country, is selected each January by committees of state and national debate officials representing the National Federation Interscholastic Speech & Debate Association.

Students in Grand Rapids and Midland learned debate techniques from Dr. Richard Edwards, member of the national topic selection committee; Gregory Rehmke, director of the New York-based Foundation for Economic Education's (FEE) High School Speech and Debate Program; June Arunga, research intern at the Foundation for Economic Education; and Dr. Jeffery Schaler, a psychologist and adjunct professor of justice, law, and society at American University's School of Public Affairs.

Debate workshops in Grand Rapids and Midland featured Edwards, Rehmke, and Gary Leff, a former California state championship debate coach.

Students grappled with a host of topics including drug and alcohol addiction, Ritalin use, insanity, domestic violence, mental health patient privacy rights, and whether government should play a role in health-care policy.

English teacher Jesse Nardizzi, first-year debate coach for Goodrich High School, offered praise for the program.

"[Today] I witnessed 50 ninth through 12th graders from different Michigan communities learning debate, challenging their thoughts, making them think beyond mere opinion ... watching students and ... thanks to you ... future leaders grow," Nardizzi wrote in a thank you letter to Mackinac Center contributors.

"This program is a great experience! This was my second year coming, and each time I receive a lot of great information," wrote Ashley Gonzalez, a student at Adrian High School.

Over 15 years, Mackinac Center High School Debate Workshops have equipped nearly 7,500 debaters with winning ideas, generating a ripple effect that has extended to all areas of the education community.

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.

And, nearly 600 Michigan home school students benefited from a recent program coordinated by former high school debate coach and workshop attendee Wanda Burdick. Burdick, co-founder of, a Michigan-based organization designed to provide tutoring assistance to home schooling families, planned the workshop in conjunction with the Michigan Home School Forensic League and invited Rehmke and Arunga to speak at the event.

The debate workshops are held every fall and are open to public, private, and charter school students from around the state.

For more information, visit the Mackinac Center Web site at