The Texas judicial system is as large and complex as Texas itself. It includes not only the courts themselves but also the ever-evolving body of law that underlies their decisions. Understanding how the system works is an important starting place for becoming an informed and civically engaged citizen.
The Taming Texas Judicial Civics and History Project is designed to foster that understanding in our state’s young people through an innovative program that combines colorful stories from the history of the Texas courts with hands-on classroom activities.
The project is centered around the books in the Taming Texas book series. The first volume in this series, Taming Texas: How Law and Order Came to the Lone Star State, was published in January 2016. The second book, Law and the Texas Frontier, was released in January 2018; the third, The Chief Justices of Texas, in February 2020; and the fourth, Women in Texas Law, in February 2023. All four books were coauthored by James L. Haley and Marilyn P. Duncan, with Forewords by Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht. Written specifically for seventh-grade Texas history students, the books are distributed in hard-copy format to public school classrooms during special presentations by judges and attorneys, and in e-book format through download from this website. Hard copies are also available for purchase.
The classroom program has reached more than 15,000 students in eight school districts in the Houston area since its inception in 2016. It is also being offered in the Dallas area and will be extended to other areas of the state over the next few years.
The curriculum for the classroom presentations includes two lessons, taught by the same teaching team in two separate sessions. The first lesson, called “The Rule of Law and Milestones in Texas Law,” introduces students to the concept of the rule of law and tells the story of how laws and the courts developed in Texas. It presents court cases that arose between 1840 and 1925 and challenges students to predict their outcomes.
Lesson two focuses specifically on the structure and functions of the courts. Through a variety of classroom activities, students learn how the Texas court system operates, which courts handle particular kinds of cases, and why it’s important to know these things. The judges and attorneys who visit the classes are able to share their first-hand experiences in the courtroom and to inspire students to learn more about the state’s laws and courts.
The Taming Texas Judicial Civics and Court History Project is generously funded by the Fellows of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society. Click here for a list of the TSCHS Fellows.
Taming Texas Classroom Resources
Taming Texas book series