‘Should slavery be legal in Texas?’ Houston ISD seventh graders asked in lesson about 1836 Constitutional Convention

A Houston ISD history lesson about Texas independence asked seventh graders if slavery should be legal. The district says the lesson “does not meet our curriculum quality standards” and will be replaced.

Houston ISD Headquarters

A lesson distributed to seventh-grade teachers by Houston ISD's central curriculum department called for students to imagine themselves as delegate at the 1836 Texas Constitutional Convention. They're asked to consider three issues and choose from a list of possible solutions.

"Issue 1: SHOULD SLAVERY BE LEGAL IN TEXAS?" the lesson read. "Pick one of the following solutions: A. Texas should allow slavery—this would satisfy slave holders. B. Texas should outlaw slavery just like Mexico—it is immoral and cruel. Who cares about slaveholders? C. Texas should allow slavery for twenty more years. This way slave holders have time to prepare."

The lesson is dated January 16. Houston Public Media confirmed that it remained on the district's curriculum website as of Friday, January 26. After hearing about the lesson, former Houston ISD school board trustee Kathy Blueford-Daniels said her "blood pressure went through the roof."

"’I’m so angry right now listening to this," said Blueford-Daniels, who represented many predominantly Black schools in Northeast Houston until her term ended this month. "I don’t even have words."

85 schools in Houston ISD are required to use the district's centrally created curriculum this year. They're part of the New Education System, created by Superintendent Mike Miles after the Texas Education Agency appointed him and a management board in June to lead a turnaround effort in the state's largest district.

Many of those schools are in Blueford-Daniels' district. She argued Black students shouldn't be subjected to a lesson that would allow their peers to argue in favor of slavery.

"For those Black kids, it says that you’re not worth anything," she said. "For those children to have to see their peers make a decision with one of those answers is ludicrous."

After Houston Public Media reached out to a district spokesperson, they said in a written statement, "This seventh-grade social studies lesson does not meet our curriculum quality standards. We will immediately stop using it and will replace it with a more appropriate lesson to teach students about the Convention of 1836."

More Houston ISD schools will have to use the centrally created curriculum next school year as the New Education System (NES) expands to at least 26 more campuses. An additional 24 schools have the option to apply for the program, and Superintendent Miles has said he plans to bring 150 schools — more than half the district — under the reform umbrella by the 2026-27 school year.

Union president Jackie Anderson with the Houston Federation of Teachers called the lesson "demeaning," and she argued it's an example of how the reform model is disempowering for students. For NES schools, English Language Arts curriculum does not include full-length books until high school. Instead, students read short passages. Miles has argued that kids can read full books outside of school.

"Again, look at the schools it's happening in — Black and brown schools," Anderson said. "They have books on the west side. They have books in River Oaks. They have books in Pen Oak. Why is this happening only to Black and brown students?"

Anderson called for a pause in the expansion of the NES program, and she said the state-appointed management board should "trash all of the garbage that Miles is putting out."

All public school fourth and seventh graders in Texas learn state history, and the state's founding as a slavery-friendly republic has been the subject of years of political battles over how the story should be taught.

In 2021, the Texas Legislature enshrined a ban on public schools teaching that "the advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States" — a reference to the acclaimed 1619 Project from the New York Times. Texas schools are also prohibited from teaching that "slavery and racism" were part of the "founding principles of the United States."

State law does call for students to gain an understanding of "the history of white supremacy, including the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong."

This story has been updated to reflect the correct grade levels at which NES curriculum does not include full-length books.