by Jess Hill
One part of our ethos at Harpeth Hall which I have always loved is that we strive to be better each year. As an institution, New Year’s resolutions abound. Yes, we have been educating girls and young women a long time, and we know that to remain the best, we must stay nimble and continue to teach our students with the best methods and within the most relevant learning environment possible in 2020.
No doubt, our students will face dramatic challenges as adults in this decade and the next, and some of us are frightened by what their generation will need to tackle in their lifetime. From climate change, to a polarized culture, to mental health issues, to violence all over the world, theirs is a complicated era.
Sometimes I feel that our job is to educate these girls about the harsh reality of the challenges for their generation. To name a few, they need to know how and why people live in poverty, and they need to do a better job caring for the environment than my generation did. And yet, I can only imagine how it feels to be coming of age and at the same time burdened by all that is wrong with the world today. Learning in this environment can be inspiring and energizing but also exhausting and overwhelming.
Let’s take a moment to begin 2020 and this new decade with a few statistics that might give hope to this generation. Things can get better over time. If we step back from this year’s problems, it is easier to put them into perspective by looking at the last century. Not every national or global issue is getting worse – some things are improving. It could be argued that the improvement is not coming quickly enough, but many things are moving in the right direction.
Fifty years ago, over half of the world’s population was illiterate, and today that number is 14%. We still have work to do, but it looks like this generation will be able to experience a full population of readers and writers in their lifetime. If we drill down a little further, two-thirds of that 14% are women. However, some of our largest gains in global education have been in girls’ education, and as we know, that is the ticket for reversing the effects of poverty and malnutrition in developing countries.
Yes, we live in a divisive and sometimes venomous political climate from both sides, but I have never seen our girls more politically and civically engaged. They are more interested in what is going on in this country and the world than I have seen in my two decades at Harpeth Hall. I feel confident in declaring that we will have a Harpeth Hall alumna in Congress in the next 10 years. And it’s about time.
Finally, according to the New York Times, “global efforts have turned the tide on AIDS.” Additionally, “one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty. Yes, there are still far too many people living in poverty, but the number of people living in “extreme poverty” has “dropped by more than 75 percent in less than four decades.”
So many times, when I am talking about our students and how I believe they will solve the problems of tomorrow and make the world a better place, I realize that the pressure I am placing on their shoulders is sizeable. As we begin this new year and decade, I hope we can see how far we have come and help our girls feel empowered and not beleaguered as they look ahead to the challenges of 2020. Positive change is a real option, and I believe our students are ready to meet this decade with great aplomb.
Happy New Year!