In Brief

Money for mental health care will join grades and Friday night dates as the topics for discussions among high school students nationwide, thanks to the National Forensic League (NFL), which chose mental health care as the official debate topic for the 2002-03 school year.

That means debate tournaments across the country will be based on the following resolution: "That the United States federal government should substantially increase public health services for mental health care."

A national committee, composed of state debate league directors, chooses the topic each year. Previous topics included weapons of mass destruction, privacy protection and U.S. foreign policy toward Russia.

Students are required to argue both for and against the topic, so the research required is extensive. Psychol-ogy teacher and former debate coach Amy Fineburg, of Homewood High School in Birmingham, Ala., says students spend much of their time working in university and law libraries accumulating "bins full of 'evidence cards' that contain facts about the topic that they use in making their cases and refuting the cases of their opponents."

"Debate teaches students how to think logically," says Fineburg, "so that ability combined with their knowledge of the topic leads them to be very astute about the topic they are debating."

There's no way to tell whether the students will end up supporting funding for mental health care in the future, but at least you can be assured they've been exposed to the full range of the issue. The final tournament on this subject will be June 15-20 at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

--M. GREENGRASS