Going natural in education | Lora Smothers | TEDxUGA



I learned from a young age that it's not good enough to be your natural self when I was seven I got my first perm now for those of you who don't know what that means I'll explain when you hear a black woman say she has a perm it means she's had a chemical relaxer treatment put in her hair to make it silky and straight on the other hand natural means no chemicals and curly kinky here this is my picture from the TEDx press release with permed straight hair and this is what my hair naturally does this is what I spent my entire young life trying to hide because I realized that people freaked out if you start to look too black perming my hair was like maybe they won't notice and I wasn't the first to employ this strategy since the middle passage african-american women have styled their hair to conform to the white standard of beauty and with the invention of the hot comb and the chemical relaxer there was a decided shift from natural to unnatural hairstyles think about it Beyonce Tyra Banks many of the women that define beauty for this age are black women with blonde straight hair and I have to admit that even I dreamed of what it would be like to have blonde hair now at this point in my life I've learned a couple of valuable things one that as a stereotypical millennial in a start-up business venture with mounds of debt from school I can't afford no fancy hair treatments and to that living for the approval of other people is exhausting so I decided to go natural now transitioning from permed back to natural is not for the faint of heart once you stop putting chemicals in your hair it grows out curly from the roots while the ends of your hair remains straight and weird things start to happen when half your hair is curly and half of your hair is straight so this one morning I'm having a particularly agonizing time attempting to tame my half curly half straight hair and as I'm trying to force it into a socially acceptable position and get it to do something that wouldn't naturally do I'm struck by this strange sense of deja vu and I'm thinking why is Phil so familiar and that's when I realized this is what I felt like working in school I felt like I spent my days trying to get kids to do things they wouldn't naturally do things like sit still and be silent and don't touch each other and be focused for seven hours a day excuse me not seven hours there are 15 minutes of recess school has become a place where crowd control is the primary task of the day and elaborate systems of manipulation are used to wooed children out of their natural ways of being systems based on public humiliation and bribery and everyone here knows what I'm talking about whether you had to put your nose in the corner or remove your clip from green to red or pay your teacher fake money that could be used in a class store as with black hair care you can trace the history of education in this country back to a decided shift from doing things naturally to instituting something unnatural 1852 marked the advent of law and forced compulsory school attendance a notion that was met with heavy resistance responsibility for educating kids shifted from families to schools and parents were fined for not handing their children over then school governance shifted from the local community to the state and in the industrial age as cities grew more and more populous schools increased in size and efficiency became a priority and what serves efficiency better than age grouping tracking behaviorist classroom management state standards and a nationally standardized curriculum and let me just take a moment to say how much I admire and appreciate every educator truly truly devoted to empowering students under those circumstances whether you're a black woman styling your hair or a kid in elementary school it pays to conform to the standard the smartest kids in school figure out pretty quickly that the way to gain power and that system is to assimilate to play by the rules and if you don't conform prepare to feel ashamed isn't that what we do we shame people who are different either consciously or subconsciously you can hear it in our language black women with silky straight hair have good hair while curly kinky hair is nappy in school if you're above average you're gifted and over achiever and below average is special highly active kids have a disorder in fact you can even be shamed for assimilating right just insert Uncle Tom for teacher's pet these terms are the weapons of systems based on comparison and external judgment now when it comes to external judgment and comparison I consider myself somewhat of an expert grades were my life I was that kid arguing with the teacher over the one question I got wrong on the test and in terms of awards and fancy degrees that lifestyle paid off I figure if there's anyone who should love our education system it's me right and yet here I am in the way of explanation let me read this excerpt from my journal during at school I've been in school for 18 years I have an honors high school diploma a bachelor's degree in neuroscience and behavioral biology and in May I will be a master of gifted education and for what whereas it gotten me it's gotten me to this realization that if I continue to jump through the hoops that the American education system has set up for me then by the time I stop jumping I will have used up all my youth all my passion and all my energy I want to be doing something useful to humanity and something that I find challenging inspiring and invigorating right now I don't want to get my PhD I don't want to be a cog in some corporation I don't want to work in a cubicle or wear pencil skirts and I look great in a pencil skirt I don't want to be so consumed by work and money that I miss out on my husband or our kids family trips to the beach or unions with old friends I don't want to wake up every day feeling trapped in a life that does nothing to feed my spirit I don't want to spend my life doing what I have to do to get to where I actually want to be I needed to go natural so one November evening in 2010 I googled late into the night hyped up on pop-tarts and my doll and at around 3 a.m. I found freedom to grow on school and that's when things started to change for me my first impression of freedom to grow was in the home of its founder Terry Cole Smith who is here today if you'd like to meet her Terry was reading the kids a book called the myth of Thanksgiving that was the first sign that something was different kids were sprawled out all over the floor some were drawing some we're building with blocks one kid was curled up in a blanket and Terry stroked his back as she read another no-no in school before Terry turned the page of the book she asked the kids a question about the content and without looking up from their fiddling they all responded correctly and that was about the point when I knew where I was where I needed to be what looked like disorder was joyful engagement different kids with different needs being met in a loving comfortable context where they were all truly known and appreciated for who they were the goal was not to produce but to learn there was no pressure no comparison no grades or tests no rush since all ftg you kids are registered as home schoolers they aren't tied to state standards or yearly standardized tests they spend tons of time outside and on field trips to their local community they interact with practicing professionals and they learn topics that would never be in an elementary school curriculum topics like the Harlem Renaissance neuroscience Shintoism and triangular numbers ftg you kids make real-world decisions and they choose solutions democratically for instance when our art table broke I spent the whole afternoon stressing about where I was going to find the time or the money to buy us a new one and then I remembered thankfully that I would be wasting a rich learning opportunity if I just solved that problem by myself because I find that kids are the most motive evaded and creative when they're welcomed into the conversation of solving real-world problems so I thought the kids down and said hey we have this problem what should we do about it and they voted that rather than buy a new one that we should repair the table we already had and this is what they created it was math art and engineering all in one and they got to learn to use power tools ftg you kids know that their ideas are important and that their worth is not found in letter grades and that's not something I could always say for myself Arial is a great example of this when Arial first came to freedom to grow she was a very withdrawn inward child with little self-confidence she had the most amazing creative ideas but getting those ideas out of her could be tricky Terry was so gentle and patient with her never pressuring or rushing her and always making sure her voice was heard in community decisions two years later Ariel was the creative power behind our winter concert where she sang carols with a smile on her face in front of over 50 people she's now one of the most animated and cuddly kids I know and the room lights up when she walks in partly because of her signature neon wardrobe but mainly because she feels free to be her natural self another story I like to tell is about Brian Brian came to us with a nice laundry list of psychological diagnosis and a list of prescriptions to match he was a very forthright snarky incredibly smart kid who knew he was incredibly smart and wanted everyone around him to know it and because of that he got into some trouble in school but at freedom to grow when his aunt's enus came out as rudeness we were able to just let him go outside and be himself digging around in the dirt and exploring the things that he was interested in he has since returned to public school where he's making A's and B's and is on zero medication the last story I'll tell is about Luke Luke was a kid who was made for unschooling he was curious about everything bugs magic indigenous cultures and every time he found something that he thought was interesting he wanted to bring it in and share it with us like a never-ending show-and-tell of one I remember the first year of ft GU he brought in this Jedi mind training toy that came with a helmet with EEG sensors in it and a little clear tube with a ball at the bottom that would move when you sent out the right brainwaves so we spent a whole day learning the neuroscience that made that work there was another time that he brought in a didgeridoo to serenade us with but nothing can top the day that he brought in a baby goat now there was one point that day as I was trying to figure out how to put a diaper on a baby goat that I thought to myself this is not what I thought my job would entail today but anything's possible at unschool and we learned about goat Anatomy and the reproductive system and the benefits of colostrum for newborns and because we followed Luke's idea he knew that what he was interested in was important and he felt valued and I've seen that happen with so many kids at freedom to grow and all because they're given the space to go natural to be themselves freedom to grow on school is just one small part of a global community of unschoolers free schools in Sudbury Valley schools a movement of people committed to redistributing the power in modern education from distant detached bureaucracy to the biggest stakeholders kids and parents themselves it's an approach that trusts and honors the human capacity to learn and rather than passing the responsibility off to experts has faith in the family and the individual to know which learning path is best the late John Holt who coined the term unschooling once said true learning learning that is permanent and useful that leads to intelligent action and further learning can arise only out of the experience interests and concerns of the learner in other words learning that sticks best happens when kids just follow where their curiosity naturally leads now I'm not saying that unschooling is the cure-all for our world or even for our education system obviously that's an issue that will require a variety of solutions but what I am saying is that unschooling should be a part of that ecology of solutions because for Ariel for Brian for Luke and for me it made a huge difference I needed to 'unschool myself and to unlearn all that comparison and external judgment that I internalized during school at freedom to grow I wasn't expected to perform I wasn't judged and I could just be myself and now I feel like I'm more me than I've ever been I feel the same way about my hair I feel like I look more like me than I ever have you could call it trendy or retro or you could just say this is what my hair naturally does in the same way you could call unschooling radical new and extreme or you could just say this is how kids learn this is how they've always learned you could call it ancient you could call it natural thank you you

20 Replies to “Going natural in education | Lora Smothers | TEDxUGA”

  1. So why can I not find any information regarding this program, concept, whatever it is? The FB page is not updated and the website does not work. Hmmm…

  2. What is called education in our schools is nothing more than indoctrination. A syllabus is chosen for kids by the powers-that-be and all the children are required to do is correctly regurgitate that information. Which ever child can regurgitate the best is deemed as the "bright" one and those who have greater difficulty regurgitating are placed in "special" or "slow learners" classes. To regurgitate someone else's thoughts & ideas found in our textbooks isn't exactly innovative and yet, this form of "education" is common practice right up to college and university. When you get your degree all you did to get it was correctly regurgitate the information in your textbooks and notes in order to get a passing grade. You are no genius. True education is breaking out of that square mould that has been created by the powers-that-be that makes everyone a carbon copy of the other and discovering things and formulating new trains of thought and new types of questions with new answers  yourself, instead of somebody else's ideas.

  3. It's all a game. Doesn't matter how smart you are. It's about how well you play along with this corrupted abomination we call the American school system.

    Beautiful talk btw.

  4. I feel schools should stop operating off of grades ,I feel it can attack a student for their short comings – not only that the pressure/stress that is put on these kids can be overwhelming (especially in higher grades),I feel it can establish a "your not good enough" because of a grade was not up to a certain standered.

    I feel like this aid the seeking of validation of teachers and peers /trying to live up to an unreal standered maybe to the point where they are afraid to make their own decision / use thier own ideas because it can be seen as "wrong"- rather than the affirming of confidence and the validation of the childs self and thier ideas (which this women is doing).

    I support the movement she is heading towards

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