Diversity Counts

Joe Harvey, Head of School

One of the most inspiring recent Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients is Katherine G. Johnson, an African American woman who became a NASA research mathematician and who calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She grew up loving to count: "I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed...anything that could be counted, I did." Ms. Johnson was a 9th grader at the age of 10 and had graduated college by the age of 18. During World War II, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, expanded a program of hiring women as "computers" (before the age of electronic computers) to include African American women. Pleased by the results, they kept women computers after the war--and the rise of space exploration gave women like Ms. Johnson opportunity. She was crucial to NASA's efforts, and John Glenn requested that Ms. Johnson review the trajectory equations produced by electronic computers before his trip to orbit the earth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Scott Page speak about his work on the bonuses of diversity. Part of his talk concerned an equation for predictions. The equation follows:

Put into language, the equation translates to: Crowd's Error = Average Error - Diversity. In other words, when a group includes diversity of various kinds, the effect of that diversity is to improve predictions (error decreases)--whether that be about major economic indicators or stock market performance or the weight of a steer. What Page's research reveals is that individual ability and collective diversity matter equally in improving a group's predictive ability; ability and diversity are equally important in reaching better outcomes.

As February begins, we are at the end of a remarkable week with our delegation of students and teachers from Beijing and at the beginning of Black History Month. Both are important opportunities to learn and to deepen our understanding of the global, national, regional, and local communities in which we live. We believe as a school that diversity of all kinds is a prerequisite of excellence, and we have the math to back it up.