Thoughts on diversity by Head of School, Andrew Davis.
Early in February I heard a talk titled “The Diversity Bonus” that showed me the mathematical proof that diversity is not just a nice to have, but a must have. Scott Page, a professor of Complex Systems, Political Science, and Economics at the University of Michigan, showed through numerous, data-heavy examples that a diverse group is better at prediction, creativity, and problem solving. The best results require both ability and diversity. Diversity is essential to the work we want our students to be doing in the years ahead.
At the tail end of his talk, Page further explained that having a diverse group is necessary for success in the knowledge economy, but not sufficient. The group must also be inclusive. In order to realize the “diversity bonus,” a group must be able to hear and value the diverse voices around the table. While we might not be asking our students to solve the most complex problems in grades K-8 – though I have been impressed with the depth of work so many of our students do – we have the opportunity to help our students develop the skills of being inclusive of all voices. If our students can graduate 8th grade valuing and including the diversity of our community in all of its forms, they will have taken a critical step to being successful leaders of the knowledge economy.
Throughout this year the professional community – the faculty and staff – has been engaged in diversity work and discussions about race with Dr. Lori Watson from Courageous Conversation. In each session, Dr. Watson has asked us to approach the work of diversity and inclusion from four places: 1) Feeling, a gut emotional reaction; 2) Believing, having the belief that race differences are important; 3) Thinking, focusing on facts and statistics, like Scott Page’s work; and 4) Acting.
Dr. Watson led us through multiple exercises that resonated with me and many members of our professional community. As a white, straight, cisgender male, I have tremendous privilege that impacts my daily life. In one exercise, we were asked to line up according to a number that corresponded with a survey we had filled out about how much we felt race had affected our daily lives. The resulting physical distance between where I found myself in the line - and much of our professional community - and Dr. Watson - our black facilitator - was an emotionally uncomfortable yet eye-opening moment that revealed just how far we still are from an equitable society. While I had entered the day from a place of believing - I believed that having a diverse and inclusive community is the right thing to do - at that moment, I was feeling a moral imperative. While Scott Page had me living in my head, that day I was living in my heart.
Building an even more diverse and inclusive community, acting, is the right thing to do. It is also what you, our families, as well as our alumni want us to further improve. I am excited to work with the faculty Diversity & Inclusion Committee, as well as the Board of Trustees and parent community, in the months and years ahead, to amplify the important – no, critical – work of diversity and inclusion at Mount Tamalpais School.
That work will require feeling, believing, thinking, and acting. The work will take time, involve taking risks, and, inevitably have some missteps along the way. Our success will further hinge on good teachers and advisors. This – taking time, taking risks, and looking to good teachers to do challenging and important work – is exactly what we want our students to do. I look forward to doing the work with all of you and building an even stronger Mount Tamalpais School community.