Recently in Steiner and Waldorf Education Category

Why is minority representation in the Waldorf movement is so low?

Much research shows that hiring processes based primarily around interviews are inherently biased against minorities, as well as a very poor indication of actual subsequent job performance. In the interview process, people tend to screen for the type of person that like to hang out with, rather than for actual abilities. This is why research has shown the interview to be a poor indicator of actual job performance.

It's a well observed habit that people tend to want to hang out with others who are most like them. Further, whites are the most racially isolated group in the country; because they are in the majority, a white person who doesn't want to hang around minorities can construct a life so that they largely don't have to. This is not something that minorities have the luxury of being able to do; when it happens it is usually the result of ghettoization. So minority applicants in an interview process run the danger of coming up against the Waldorf equivalent of a good old boys network, where the judgment is not on competence but on "fit", or “does this person seemed to be like the rest of us”. How much this actually happens in real Waldorf schools is an open question, since most seem so desperate for minority faculty that they give the impression they would probably hire any minority applicant they felt to be moderately competent. On the other hand, I'm not sure that public handwringing about lack of minorities on the faculty translates into anything approximating affirmative action in hiring practices. That would be another area for research. An interesting study would identify people who have been minority applicants at multiple Waldorf schools and interview them about their experiences. How did they find the application process? Were they offered the position they applied for? If not, what reasons were offered? What do they think really happened? If that could be matched from the school's perspective, that would be helpful. How many minority applicants did the school have? How did they evaluate them? And if they decided that they had a "more qualified candidate" and therefore felt that they had to give the job to the non-minority applicant, has the school considered this in the larger context of their oft-stated desire to increase minority staffing?

So what can Waldorf schools do to increase minority representation on the faculty (and thereby probably increase minority enrollment)? The first issue is to examine the hiring process. Then examine the challenges facing minorities in the country at large.Out of a study of the phenomenon the possible solutions will arise. If the stated goal is to increase minority faculty, and there is no applicant pool, then it is probably necessary to create one. Some form of mentorship/scholarship program is likely the only way to create an applicant pool that meets the formal requirements of Waldorf teaching.

Why is minority representation in the Waldorf movement is so low?

So far I have focused mostly on the question of enrollment. The final factor is doubtless faculty. It would seem obvious that a Waldorf school with strong minority representation on the faculty will tend to attract more minority students, though in reality that would be a point for further research. A nearly all-white faculty as exists in most Waldorf schools today might act as a deterrent for minority families when they consider enrolling their children.

So how can Waldorf schools increase minority representation on the faculty? Here again a look at the larger culture is important, since there are plenty of organizations that say they want to increase the number of minorities that they employ. There is a large body of research on racial biases in hiring, and I would argue that a lot of that applies to Waldorf schools as well. First off there's a very small applicant pool to begin with. The formal requirements to be a Waldorf teacher include at least a bachelors degree (and often a Masters degree to teach high school) and Waldorf training. Since our society is so biased against minorities to begin with, statistically a much smaller percentage of the minority population completes college. So arguably requiring a college degree puts an extra barrier in front of minority applicants. Likewise the Waldorf training requirement can be construed as bias against minorities in the hiring process. Waldorf training is expensive and time-consuming, and there is not much scholarship money available. Since minorities in our society are statistically more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged, they are therefore also less likely to have the money and the time to be able to undertake a formal Waldorf teacher training. But even if minorities are able to meet the hiring requirements, there is always the hiring process itself. I will look at that and then make suggestions for change tomorrow.

Why is minority representation in the Waldorf movement is so low?

In addition to the "Waldorf schools are no better, though no worse, than anywhere else in society" reasons that I outlined in my last post, there may be additional things particular to the nature of Waldorf schools that additionally work to discourage minorities from applying. This area, too, requres more inviestigation. One area to look would be curriculum.

Numerous people have commented on how the grade school curriculum appears to have a strongly western and European bias, especially in the history curriculum. Other people have denied that this is the case, but the perception seems to arise spontaneously with some frequency. In the schools with which I am familiar the Eurocentric bias is not nearly as pronounced as some people claim, but there is doubtless some validity to the concern. It is also important to note that the subject matter is not central to what makes Waldorf education; the pedagogy is adaptable to multiple different cultures, as the success of Waldorf schools in Africa, Asia, and South America attest. But it is and interesting question to what degree American Waldorf schools have adapted to the changing ethnic composition of the country. It seems to me that where changes have been introduced, they have tended to trail public opinion rather than lead it. Now I am certainly not calling for a complete overhaul of the entire grade school curriculum, but apropos the question of why there are so few minorities at most Waldorf schools, that may be an area to examine. Doubtless there are more.

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.

I wrote an article for the Waldorf Critics Observer about PLANS' stinging defeat in US Federal court.
On September 14 th, 2005 PLANS lost its seven-year old lawsuit attempting to have public-methods Waldorf Charter schools in two California school districts declared religious schools and shut down for violating the Constitutional separation of Church and State (known as the Establishment Clause, because it reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".)

The reason for the loss? In seven years, PLANS failed to submit sufficient evidence to substantiate the contention that Anthroposophy is a religion. The trial lasted 31 minutes. The judge, the Honorable Frank C. Damrell, Jr., awarded the case to the school districts under Rule 52(c), meaning that the plaintiff, PLANS, failed to provide enough evidence to prevail. The result is that PLANS lost their lawsuit.

This is the culmination of PLANS' seven year farcical effort to have Anthroposophy declared a religion.
PLANS has blathered a lot of illogical nonsense over the years. The difference here is that in a court case, the rules of evidence are strict and fair. Under these rules, PLANS was completely unable to offer any evidence that Anthroposophy is a religion. Snell and Dugan may one day realize that the US Court system functions differently from the Internet. On the Internet you can make all sorts of wild allegations, and then insist that the people you slander bear the burden of proof in defending themselves. In court, such wild allegations must be substantiated by the person filing the suit, or they lose the case. PLANS lost.
In the final analysis,
Both the court case and the reaction by PLANS are typical. The court case revealed PLANS to be a fanatical, disorganized group with no clear arguments, and the press release following PLANS' stinging defeat showed an organization partially out of touch with reality. In actual fact, Anthroposophy is not a religion, a position that the court agreed with, based on the evidence presented. The individual members of PLANS (all 10 of them) may feel differently, but they had their day in court, and utterly failed to prove otherwise.
The real losers in this case are the children of the State of California. PLANS' baseless seven year crusade has cost taxpayers over $300,000 in legal fees, taking much-needed money away from programs that benefit students.
The question often comes up, do you have to be an anthroposophist to be a Waldorf teacher? The simple answer is, No, as Steiner himself demonstrated. According to Emil Molt:

Dr Steiner was broad-minded in his choice of teachers. As an example, the sister of one of my acquaintances had applied to the Waldorf School. She was a teacher by profession but did not know the first thing about anthroposophy or of the personality of Rudolf Steiner. He spoke with her before the beginning of the course and then invited her to attend. She became a very able Waldorf teacher.

Emil Molt. "Emil Molt and the beginnings of the Waldorf School movement: Sketches from an autobiography." Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1991. Page 143.

I read an interesting book the other day: "Emil Molt and the beginnings of the Waldorf School Movement". It’s an autobiography by Emil Molt, the man responsible for the first Waldorf School. I wrote a review on my site. An interesting portion covered the story of how Waldorf Education came to be called “Waldorf”. According to Molt:
The story of the "Waldorf Astoria" goes back to John Jacob Astor. The Astor family, originally from Savoy, had settled in the south German village of Walldorf in Baden. Johann Jakob Astor was born on July 17, 1763. He emigrated to America as a young man and there, with luck and daring, made a great fortune. In the 1850s, the Astor house was the most elegant private home in New York City. Descendants of Astor later founded the famous "Waldorf-Astoria Hotel" in his memory.
Connected with the hotel was the "Waldorf-Astoria Cigar Store Company." Two of its managers, Mr Kramer and Mr Rothschild, had come to Germany around the turn of the century with the trademark rights. Originally, they produced their own brands; later, they had them made by Manoli in Berlin. They were unsuccessful, however, and eventually put their business up for sale. Müller and Marx heard of this, and, in 1905, bought the rights to the trademark.
Müller and Marx were Molt’s partners at the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company. It was after the war the Molt got the idea of a school for the worker’s children, and in its first year, the Waldorf School was a company school, with the teachers on the payroll of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Company. (A year later the school became independent). So that is how Waldorf Education got its name.

Faculty Conferences

The contents of the volumes “Faculty Meetings With Rudolf Steiner” (also known as Faculty Conferences or Conferences with Teachers) belong to the least reliable portion of Rudolf Steiner's works. What you are reading is a translation of a summary by an editor of the notes of some of people who were sitting in the faculty meetings. These are not word for word stenographic recordings, and certainly not anything Rudolf Steiner ever reviewed himself. Editors Erich Gabert and Hans Rudolf Niederhäuser, working at the Steiner Archive, constructed these volumes using primarily the notes of Dr. Karl Schubert, one of the founding teachers at the first Waldorf School, and complemented by the notes of other participants. As Gabert and Niederhäuser note in their preface, "...the notes all have a very fragmented quality. The editors’ task was to position the fragments so that they support one another, thus giving the most complete picture possible." Heavy editing went into the reconstruction of Steiner’s statements, and these are not at all his actual words. There was considerable debate whether to even publish them, but since even less complete versions were circulating, the Archives decided to proceed. Bear this in mind when reading them.

Waldorf Materialism

I came across an interesting concept recently: Waldorf Materialism. It sounds like an oxymoron - after all Waldorf is supposed to be born of Anthroposophy with a spiritual background. It is not at all uncommon to hear materialism denounced in Waldorf circles. So what is Waldorf Materialism? Well, one thing that attracts people to Waldorf is the style of interior decoration in the Kindergarten: Natural fibers, wooden toys, faceless dolls and knitted gnomes. These come with precise explanations: nurturing the senses, inspiring the child's power of imagination, etc. So what does the newly enthusiastic parent do? Go to the store and spend 3 grand on a whole new set of toys, and all the old ones go in the dumpster (or perhaps to the school's rummage sale)! The child's room at home then looks exactly like the Waldorf kindergarten (minus all the other children). That is Waldorf Materialism - spending a lot of money to replicate the material aspects of the Waldorf environment.

When thinking is too difficult

I found this Steiner quote to be interesting in light of advances in technology in education. First radio, then television, and now computers promise to revolutionize education and make the incomprehensible comprehensible in an ever easier manner. Neither radio nor television fulfilled this promise, but somehow computers will succeed where film failed?

"Recently we were forced to experience an article in an important weekly paper. It said, more or less, that many of our contemporaries find that when they read Spinoza and Kant, the concepts get so confused that they cannot cope with them. But then the author of the article suggests applying a new technical accomplishment to this problem, too. Let's make a film! Imagine a film in which Spinoza first explains how he grinds lenses and then goes on to explain the development of his thoughts and philosophy, and so forth. All you need to do is sit passively, and your thoughts on the subject will no longer be confused. This is totally in line with current preferences. Slide presentations would show us how Spinoza's Ethics and Kant's Critique Of Pure Reason came about. People would go to lectures like that."

Rudolf Steiner. "First Steps in Inner Development". Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press, 1999. Page 88.
The Lecture is titled: How does the soul discover its true being? and was given in Kassel on May 8th, 1914. Translated by Catherine Creeger.

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