Engage, Equip, and Empower: An Ashley Hall Education
By Mary B. Webb ’76, Upper School Faculty Member
As an Ashley Hall graduate and current Upper School History Department faculty member, Mary Webb ’76 brings a unique perspective, a wealth of experience, and a keen insight to her classroom. After graduating from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education, she earned her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. After practicing for nearly two decades, she transitioned into education and has taught at Ashley Hall since 2001. Ms. Webb has previously served as Chair of the History Department and is currently an Honor Council Faculty Representative.
Independence of thought and diversity of opinion must be fostered under the same roof, within the same system, as they are crucial to a liberal arts education. It takes courage and resilience to live in today’s society where opinions can differ on even the most fundamental ideas about what our school and wider community should stand for. Ashley Hall promotes the development of brave and independent women who, in a variety of ways, not only live life to the fullest but also enrich and improve the lives of their families while furthering the success of the communities in which they live. The contributions of our alumnae and current students on a variety of fronts are highly individualized, frequently transformational, and sometimes even revolutionary. Ashley Hall women aspire to embody the idea of civic virtue through their ethical service locally, nationally, and internationally. We may not all speak with the same voice, but each individual has learned and earned the ability to express herself clearly, and with conviction.
Ashley Hall’s Mission Statement calls for us to empower educated women who are independent, ethically responsible, and prepared to meet the challenges of society with confidence. The ability to engage in civil conversations enhances the success of every civic engagement. For women who want to foster change, or seek to preserve a status quo in which they believe, it is crucial that they understand how the world works. Gradual acquisition of these skills at developmentally appropriate stages through our Learning Spiral leads to increased knowledge of the world, a deeper understanding of the issues at hand, and, ultimately, the ability to hear, process, and respond with an open mind to opposing points of view.
Experience shows that without civil discourse, time and energy can be wasted in fruitless conversations that can stifle individual voices and hinder growth. Harkness discussions and increased attention on civil discourse provide structure for student conversations across the curriculum. It takes time, practice, and patience for each student’s voice to develop and evolve. We encourage the growth that will continue over their lifetimes. In the classroom, extensive use of primary sources throughout the curriculum encourages students to evaluate the source itself, not just the commentary on that source that reflects the opinion of others. Instruction across all disciplines leads to the same goals, providing students the opportunity to equip themselves with the ability to voice original thoughts, to write clearly and persuasively, to argue both passionately and dispassionately, to discern the truth, and to act accordingly.
Ashley Hall’s goals are in line with that of the Center for Civic Education which seeks to foster crucial skills in order to equitably develop enlightened citizens. Enlightenment happens best with the opportunity for exposure to different points of view. For faculty at Ashley Hall the realization that we as teachers of girls need to be flexible to evolve and adjust our instruction to achieve equity within our own classrooms is particularly poignant. The goal is that our students will absorb the availability and necessity of an even playing field and expect that equality of opportunity throughout the rest of their own lives. If they do not find it, we have faith that they have acquired the necessary skills so that they can help create it themselves.
The search for equity and equality was highlighted this year with Ashley Hall’s celebration of the ratification of the XIX Amendment to the United States Constitution. Students actively engaged in studying the history behind it and participated in a march to celebrate the recognition of this fundamental human right, the right to vote for those who seek to represent you. It is no accident that Ashley Hall’s founder, Mary Vadrine McBee, was one of those who persevered in seeking the right for women to vote using every weapon in her arsenal. She was a risk taker, speaking out in support of the XIX Amendment soon after Ashley Hall was founded. Ms. McBee took steps to make real the ideal of equality at a time when she was relatively new to the Charleston community and a voice of the minority. We advocate for our students to embody that same conviction when pursuing their own causes.
Honor in this pursuit is also key to the concept of civic virtue. Those who serve their community best do so in a forthright, ethical, and transparent manner. Ashley Hall’s Honor Code, a pledge that students sign in a formal ceremony, states that Ashley Hall students shall not, “lie, cheat, or steal nor tolerate those who do.” Students have the opportunity to serve on Honor Council and offer guidance to their peers as they also serve as role models. Students aspire to act honorably in all aspects of their lives, which lays the foundation of trust necessary for open and civil engagement in school life.
Through our Hallmarks, which include the qualities of compassion, intelligence, worldliness, creativity, the ability to collaborate, purposefulness, and the ability to be discerning, Ashley Hall aspires to prepare students to be active, not passive, participants in life’s journey. Practice of civic virtue in our school community seeks to mirror the practice of civic virtue in the wider world. Skills based on ethical conduct must have and will have practical applications beyond our walls. Every student is offered the means to express the courage of her convictions. Ashley Hall’s end goal is always to improve each woman’s quality of life long term. At some point, every Ashley Hall student and graduate will engage, in line with her own convictions, in some controversy or disagreement. She will be ready.