Someone asked me recently why minority representation in the American Waldorf movement is so low. That got me thinking, and I have a few ideas. The Waldorf school of Garden City is the most diverse Waldorf school in North America (if by diversity you mean lots of different minorities; The Baltimore Waldorf School and the Milwaukee Waldorf Charter have more nonwhites in total, though they are all from one group). The reasons for Garden City’s diversity are doubtless numerous. However, demographics play a large role. If you pull out a map and a compass, put the point on the school and draw a circle representing a one-hour commute around the school, in Garden City you have 3 to 4 million people. That probably represents at least 200,000 children. If you further reduce the pool to only those whose parents could afford to pay for the Waldorf School, you still likely have 20,000 possible students. Among those 20,000, perhaps as many as 30% are nonwhite. That means the school could draw from at least 6000 minority students, should they be able to convince those student’s parents to send them. With full enrollment of 380 students, that’s a big pool to draw from. The biggest reason why The Waldorf School of Garden City doesn’t have more minority applicants is probably the competition from numerous other private and Catholic schools who are also trying to increase minority enrollment.
Now compare this to the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in upstate Columbia County, New York. Drawing from a one-hour-drive radius, the total number of potential students is barely enough to even sustain the school, and the applicant pool – reflecting the demographics and economics of the area – has virtually no minorities to begin with. So even if the school made every effort humanly possible to attract every last potential minority student in the entire region, it would still barely make a dent in the overall proportion.
Most of the Waldorf schools in the country follow one of those two patterns. Either they are located in a major metropolitan area (Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego) in which case there are lots of other private schools actively courting the minority applicant pool, or they are in rural or semi-rural areas that are demographically nearly all white to begin with, in which case they struggle with enrollment generally, and have virtually no minorities applicants in the community who are financially able to afford a Waldorf education.
That’s my first thesis, my "back of the napkin" numbers. It would be interesting to see how this holds up under more detailed analysis. Refining the numbers a bit using more detailed demographic data might prove interesting.In the next few days I will look at some additional reasons why minorities are underrepresented in the Waldorf movement.