Justice Graves discusses civics education with Hungarian officials and students

September 10, 2003

Mississippi Supreme Court Justice James E. Graves Jr. returned this week from seven days in Hungary as part of an international exchange program to teach democracy to students and discuss the need for civics education with government officials.

Justice Graves and Mississippi Assistant Superintendent of Education John Jordan spent Sept. 1-7 in Budapest as part of the 2003 Civitas Exchange. Other participants were Texas Supreme Court Justice Michael H. Schneider, attorney and Florida State University College of Law Professor Steven G. Gey, and government teacher Rosie Heffernan of Miami's Our Lady of Lourdes Academy.

The visit to Hungary was part of an effort to promote civics education in a country where government changed from communism to democracy in 1989. Hungary's education system has no curriculum for civics education.

Some teachers incorporate government into other classroom instruction. Justice Graves visited the Trefort high school in Budapest, where an English language class studies government and civics. Justice Graves participated in classroom discussions with students.

Justice Graves and his companions visited with Hungary's Minister of Education, who is a member of Parliament. Justice Graves said, "We talked about their educational programs in trying to demonstrate to them the importance of civic education for their students."

Teaching students about the way their government works promotes an interest in participation, Justice Graves said. "Democracy was designed as the will of the majority, and it works best when the majority of citizens actually and actively participate," Graves said.

Justice Graves was invited to be a part of the Civitas Exchange as a result of his previous participation in the We the People program at Mississippi State University. For the past two summers, he has taught school teachers from across the state about the U. S. Constitution as part of the We the People program at MSU's Center for Civic Education. Justice Graves previously judged students participating in mock congressional hearings in Mississippi and in Washington, D.C., as part of the We the People program. And he is frequently called upon by individual teachers to speak to classes around the state about civics.

The We the People program at MSU is a partner in Civitas: An International Civic Education Exchange Program, which is administered by the Center for Civic Education and funded through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement. The national Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational corporation based in Calabasas, Calif.

Travel arrangements for Justice Graves were paid for by the We the People program from a grant provided by the national office of the Center for Civic Education.

Other U.S. partners in the exchange program include the State Bar of Texas Law Focused Education Inc. and the Florida Law Related Education Association.

The international exchange program attempts to assist foreign countries in the development of their democratic form of government.

Justice Graves said, "It truly is an exchange program. It wasn't 'Here we are, the great Americans. We are here to save you.' It was, 'Let us hear how you do things,' and they wanted to hear how we do things."