In 1835 after losing his congressional election in Tennessee, Davy Crockett told his fellow politicians, “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.” In many ways, ‘Texas’ has often seemed more of a state of mind than a geographic location.
The Evergreen decided to explore Texan identity within the context of the Greenhill and Dallas-Fort Worth community. Our staff members have interviewed 18 people about how identity is formed and what it means to be a Texan.
Is Texas part of the South?
Although sometimes labeled as part of the South, many members of the Greenhill community have a difficult time categorizing Texas in regional terms. Some consider it to be part of the South, while others insist it’s Southwest. Many say that Texas is its own entity altogether.
Sophomore Hannah Piper’s family has lived in Texas for multiple generations, even accumulating Texan artifacts from the 1800s. Hannah believes there is a distinct difference between Texas and the South.
“I find comfort in [Southern] culture, but some of the Southern values don’t hold up with my family as much as Texan values do. The Southern mindset is a bit more close-minded than the Texan one,” Hannah said.
Director of Equity and Inclusion Karen Bradberry grew up in Texas and always thought of herself as a Southerner. However, after visiting a school in Alexandria, Virginia for a conference, she realized Texans might not be quite as “southern” as stereotypes typically portray.
“I saw huge, stately homes that instantly reminded me of movies like Gone with the Wind. They had long, winding driveways, and homes adorned with tall, white columns that made the perfect verandas and back porches, just like the ones I’d seen in movies that portrayed the South.” said Dr. Bradberry. “I was like, ‘Woah, we are not the South. We are really more South-West than South,’” Dr. Bradberry.
Nonetheless, many believe that Texas’ ties to slavery and the Confederacy inextricably link the state to the South.
“We’re a slave state and the Confederate side in the war. We’re on the border between the South and the South-West, but the part of Texas I grew up in was East Texas, so it was definitely the South,” said Upper School History teacher Dr. Becky Daniels. “[In fact], Greenhill used to be a cotton farm.”
Bigotry in the South
Texas was a member of the Confederacy during the Civil War, following much of the South in its support of slavery and states’ rights. But 152 years after the Confederacy surrendered, many have said that Texans are still associated with the same culture.
“[There is an] assumption that a Southerner or a Texan is going to be unwilling to even consider the other, the different,” said Upper School Spanish teacher April Burns.
Upper School History teacher David Lowen said that bigotry may be more apparent in the South, but it is not more prevalent than in other parts of the country.
“The South is no more racist, homophobic or sexist than any other part of the country. What I tell my friends is that our racism is just more overt, whereas racists in other parts of the country often are more covert, or hidden,” Mr. Lowen said.
Still, some assert that there are seeds of truth to every stereotype.
“I was forced into a mold I didn’t fit in very well. There was a very narrow perspective of what a woman should be, and that caused a lot of personal tension that I think I wouldn’t have found if I’d grown up in New York City,” Dr. Daniels said.
These stereotypes can sometimes make identifying as a Texan difficult for students of color.
“It’s sometimes hard for me to be so proud of my Texan heritage when it kind of conflicts against who I am,” said sophomore Megan Olomu, who is half African-American and half Indian.
Others, like senior Richa Sinkre, who is Indian-American, believe that the large groups of minorities in Texas make it easy to identify as a Texan.
“I don’t think about it when I say, ‘Oh I’m an Indian that lives in Texas.’ Because I know that there are so many of them, it doesn’t seem like I’m an odd one out,” Richa said.
The Texas “Conservative”
Today, Texans are often known for their far-right conservative politics.
Texas last voted blue in a presidential election in 1976 when Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected to office. Since then, the state has been a Republican stronghold, consistently voting for conservative candidates.
“I would say that I’m conservative, which is the stereotype of both [Southerners and Texans],” said sophomore Bridge Brinkmann. “I think that the environment that people are brought up in, specifically around this culture, is traditionally very Christian, and the Christian sects that are predominant here are pretty conservative, leading it to being more conservative.”
Texan Identity in the Curriculum
Many members of the Greenhill community believe that the school does not foster a strong Texan identity, at least not a stereotypical one. Greenhill’s curriculum may play a hand in this.
According to Middle School History teacher Peggy Turlington, who has taught at Greenhill for 21 years, Texas history at Greenhill has been “phased out” since the turn of the century. In the 1990’s, seventh graders at Greenhill would take one year of Texas history and tour the state on a week-long field trip. Today, seventh graders learn about Texas history in two to three weeks as part of a unit on westward expansion and the school trip has been discontinued.
“The Middle School does not have much time set aside for learning about American history. Fifth, sixth and eighth grades learn about global history, and only 7th grades concentrates on America. If we were to teach only Texas history in seventh grade, that would mean no real American History in Middle School. To give that up for Texas really is something that shorts American history as a whole,” Ms. Turlington said.
As an independent school, Greenhill is not required to cover Texas history like Texas public schools. However, in addition to some classes in Lower and Middle School, some teachers work Texas history into Atlantic Experience 9 (AX9), the required freshman history class, as part of their unit on westward expansion and sectionalism.
“We at Greenhill are about teaching things from different perspectives. You’ve got to study [Texas history] from an American perspective, you’ve got to study it from the perspective of the Mexicans, of westward expansion, you’ve gotta look at it from the settler’s perspective and the slave’s perspective,” said Dr. Daniels, an AX9 teacher. “There’s a lot of different ways you need to look at the history of Texas. I would love to see a more engaging study of Texas.”
The required, year-long history classes in the Upper School, AX9 and Atlantic Experience 10 (AX10), focus on American and European history. According to Amy Bresie, Upper School History Department Chair, this is because AX9 and AX10 are focused on preparing students for college and life afterward
“It’s really kind of a complicated process, but essentially, it is a lot of looking from the outside, what are other places doing, what are best practices? What do colleges want to see? What do we want to make sure that a successful Greenhill graduate understands? What are the things you absolutely have to know?” Dr. Bresie said.
In the eleventh and twelfth grades, the History Department offers electives that provide a more in-depth focus on certain subjects, such as the Cold War, human rights or urban studies. Texas history is not currently offered as an elective.
“We base our electives off the passions of our teachers. And we have people right now, who, Texas history is not their just absolute passion, but maybe next year we will,” Dr. Bresie said.
A Southwestern literature and history class has typically been offered in the English Department that students could take for either history or English credit. Assistant Head of School Tom Perryman a native Texan, began teaching the class in 1991, because he felt that students did not know enough about Texas history.
“A lot of it was just trying to bust myths that I feel like a lot of students have, particularly about Texas history. I called it Southwest, but it was really kind of focused on Texas,” he said. “I wanted the students to have as much of what was going on, to recognize it in their own backyard as much as possible.”
The class was discontinued two years ago due to scheduling issues.
One reason that Texas history may not be a passion for many teachers is that a large portion of Greenhill faculty is not from Texas. This is not by chance: Greenhill actively recruits teachers from outside the state in order to expose students to diverse perspectives and experiences.
“I think that we have to broaden our horizons, that we owe it to our students, to our mission, to have people from different backgrounds. If everybody grew up in the same area, you’re not going to have a very interesting faculty. So, we work really hard to have a diverse faculty and in every sort of nuanced idea of diverse,” Mr. Perryman said.
Texas history is covered in greater depth is the Lower School. Second graders learn about Texas traditions and go on Texas-themed field trips such as the Fort Worth Stockyards, while fourth graders study traditional Texas history in the classroom.
According to Lower School History Department Chair Hannah Harkey, this allows students to nurture a stronger sense of identity, which is especially important in the formative years that makeup the Lower School.
“I think it makes sense that they would hear most of [Texas history] in Lower School, when they’re learning about the differences of people and the differences of culture and how they fit into those different places and how those fit into the world,” Mrs. Harkey said.
Still, few envision a stronger Texas history curriculum at Greenhill in future years.
“I can be all self-righteous and say we ought to have more Texas history, but I think at this point, you’re kind of talking a zero sum game,” said Mr. Perryman. “If we’re going to add Texas history, what are we going to take away? You know I’m not going to look somebody in the eye and say Texas history is more important than whatever, but you’re not going to get me to say I think we ought to teach more Texas history on top of what we are teaching, ‘cause I think you guys are maxed out, and I don’t think that’s fair.”
What it means to be a Texan may depend on your age. As the world undergoes significant changes, such as the technological revolution and invention of social media, millennials view their identity as Texans differently from people of previous generations.
“Not growing up in the time period I did, [millennials’] view of what is Texan or what is Southern is completely different from my view,” said Mr. Lowen. “Everything is blended together, and I think that deals some with the mobility and just with social media and the propensity of millennials to be more in touch with people outside their own area.”
Dr. Bradberry said that millennials may still identify as Texan, but their change in philosophy will affect the way they see their Texan identity.
“The more that technology allows [millennials] to access other parts of the world, the less attention, I think, is paid to specifics like ‘I’m from Texas.’ You run the risk of losing that sense of identity, or it doesn’t matter as much,” said Dr. Bradberry. “If we’re not intentional about creating an identity about where we’re from, then we run the risk of having an identity that’s there, but doesn’t mean the same thing.”
Senior Richa Sinkre believes that millennials will redefine what it means to be Texan, so long as they keep identifying as Texans.
“There’s a lot of kids in our generation who are a lot more open-minded and who are a lot more accepting of new perspectives and new ideas. I think that if we continue to identify as Texan that will change the stereotypical view people have of the South,” Richa said.