High School Debate Workshops: “I Have Seen the Influence”

Mackinac Center High School Debate Workshops educate students and coaches about free-market ideas and how to actively apply these principles to their debate preparation in the ensuing year. In 22 years, more than 10,000 debaters and teachers from across Michigan have attended. The Center's 2009 workshops once again provided hundreds of high school debate students and their teachers with tips, advice and research material presented by nationally known speakers.

"I have attended this event four years in a row and have found the information and lectures to be an extremely vital stepping stone for my debate preparation each year," Nathaniel Ellsworth, a senior from Saginaw Heritage High School, said in a written critique of the workshop. "I have seen the influence that debate has on my life and others."

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Participating in the four workshops this year — held in Adrian, Grand Rapids, Livonia and Traverse City — were Adrian, Blissfield, Cadillac, Caledonia, Casa Richard Academy, Detroit International Academy, Detroit Life Skills Center, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Grand Rapids City, Hazel Park, Holt, Hudson, Inland Lakes, Kenowa Hills, Lenawee Christian, Monroe, North Farmington, North Muskegon, Northville, Oak Park, Onsted, Petoskey, Rockford, Romeo, Saginaw Heritage, Tecumseh, Traverse City Central, Traverse City West, Westside Christian Academy and Zion Christian high schools.

At this year's workshops, speakers focused on topics like income inequality, fraternal organizations, voluntary private initiative and the role of government in addressing poverty.

This year's speakers were:

  • Greg Rehmke, director of educational programs for Economic Thinking/E Pluribus Unum Films, a nonprofit organization in Seattle, Wash. Rehmke presented ideas for addressing America's poverty problem through means other than government welfare. Rehmke shared the stories of two women whose voluntary efforts to assist the poor often encounter limitations by government services or regulations. Students learned that even helping one's neighbor can require government approval.
  • Mike Winther, president of the Institute for Principle Studies, co-coach of a nationally ranked California debate club, former college debater and author of numerous articles on public policy issues. Winther taught students basic and vital debate techniques, focusing on organizing arguments to give speeches structure and cogency.
  • Doug Bandow, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the Cobden Fellow in International Economics at the Institute for Policy Innovation, a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author of several books. Bandow discussed the history of America's welfare system, providing students some perspective about the true nature of poverty in America. For example, the United States federal government has spent trillions of dollars on welfare programs since the 1960s, but poverty and welfare entitlements have only increased.
  • Michael Miller, director of program at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, formerly chair of the philosophy and theology department at Ave Maria College of the Americas in Nicaragua. Miller helped students learn the difference between facts and opinions. Understanding how to properly research this year's topic is a tool that Michigan students can certainly apply in the classroom.

Bringing in fantastic speakers to present a free-market perspective on the debate topic, the Mackinac Center provides a unique and important service to debaters and coaches. "Learning what role the economy plays in policy issues is often overlooked, yet remains fundamental to all reform," wrote Colleen Averill, debate coach from Lenawee Christian School. "In today's current events, the economy speaks so loudly not much else can be heard. Yet our students know little about how it works. They always come away from these workshops better informed on the debate topic, but even more importantly and fundamentally, on the economy that lies beneath it."

Students who attended the workshops are eligible to enter an essay contest based on this year's topic. Up to four $1,000 college scholarships will be awarded. Last year's winners were Samuel Ryskamp and Paul Freswick of Zion Christian School in Grand Rapids, Garrett Schoonover of Hudson High School and Ian Blodger of Lowell High School.