The mother of seventh-grade student in Austin, Texas, says she plans to meet with school officials over a homework assignment that tasked students to draw pictures of themselves as slaves.
“There’s nothing about slavery that I would want any child, regardless of color, to have to relive,” said Tonya Jennings, the Four Points Middle School parent who, on Saturday, told KVUE she was shocked by the assignment that came home with her 12-year-old daughter.
“To ask my child to put herself in a situation where she has to draw herself as a slave was an issue just, you know, all the way up the board,” said Jennings. She also said her daughter was only one of two black students in the class.
Video courtesy: KVUE
The assignment, “Making Sense with the Senses,” instructed students to “think of our discussions about slave life in Texas in the 1850’s” and “draw a picture of yourself as a slave,” then, color it in. This accounted for 20 points of the worksheet’s grade. It also asked students to write five sentences to describe their “surroundings” in the drawing, one for each of the five senses – sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. This constituted 50 percent of the total points. Neatness, creativity, proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar made up 30 points.
“And I stopped after reading, ‘Draw a picture of yourself as a slave.’ I just stopped right there,” said Jennings. She said the assignment did not “fit the narrative of what they’re trying to do.” Jennings stated she was not even sure “what they were they were trying to do,” indicating the rest of the assignment packet was about the Civil War but did not mention slavery.
Over the weekend, the Leander Independent School District released a statement acknowledging that a Four Points Middle School parent contacted administrators with a concern about a Texas history lesson on the Civil War and the role of slavery. It also said the campus responded to the parent.
“When teaching sensitive content, we strive to deliver lessons with care and context to our students,” noted the statement. “The tragic impacts of slavery are well documented and relevant to our state and nation’s history.”
Leander ISD directed individuals to review the state’s seventh-grade social studies curriculum standards for section 113.19 on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. “The state curriculum for seventh-grade history expects students to explain reasons for Texas involvement in the Civil War, including states’ rights, slavery, sectionalism, and tariffs. The state also asks students to be able to identify points of view from the historical context surrounding an event and the frame of reference that influenced the participants.”
Jennings told KVUE she understood the importance of teaching children about the Civil War but felt it was not appropriate to ask students to depict themselves as slaves. She said she intended to meet with school leaders on Monday to discuss better ways the district can teach students about slavery.
Breitbart Texas reached out to Leander ISD about the assignment. Spokesman Matt Mitchell said, “The intent of the assignment was to teach empathy for those affected by the tragedy of slavery. The state of Texas educational guidelines ask students to identify points of view from the historical context.”
He added that social studies assignments vary by teacher and campus and not all middle school students received this assignment. “No other complaints regarding the assignment were registered,” said Mitchell. “Further, the assignment has been given to students in years past and the district is not aware of any complaints in that time either.”
Although Jennings told KVUE she would meet with the district on Monday, Leander ISD maintained these concerns were addressed Friday when “the parent met with the school principal.”
Texas educators also teach sensitive topics like Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the high school years. Since 2010, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission impacts how such atrocities are taught through curriculum standards created for the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in world geography, world history, and U.S. history since 1877. The commission’s U.S. history lesson, The 8 Stages of Genocide, states: “The purpose of these lessons is to help students personally ‘connect’ in order to gain a better understanding for those who have suffered, horrible, preventable human tragedies of genocide and other atrocities.”
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.