UGA Libraries Logo

Interview with Lora Smothers, July 5, 2016

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:28 - Early life and education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Can you just tell me a little bit about your early life...

Segment Synopsis: Smothers describes her early educational experiences. She mentions her parents growing up during integration and being the first black students in their schools. She also talks about attending Emory University and choosing an interdisciplinary major in Neuroscience, Cognition, and Behavior.

Keywords: Emory University; Florence, Alabama; educators; gifted education; integration; interdisciplinary; neuroscience; private Christian school; school model

00:06:27 - Deciding to study education

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Looking at your bio, you then went to UGA and studied education.

Segment Synopsis: Smothers talks about her decision to pursue a master's degree in gifted education at the University of Georgia. She describes her experience working at J.J. Harris Elementary School and becoming disenchanted with the gifted education experience in schools. Smothers talks about a moment of doubt about pursuing a career in teaching, and subsequently finding out about the Freedom to Grow Unschool in Athens, Georgia.

Keywords: alternative education movement; behavior control; gifted education; pedagogy; teacher profession

00:14:24 - Learning about Freedom to Grow Unschool

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So I called her the following day, because it was the middle of the night, and asked her if I could visit.

Segment Synopsis: Smothers describes learning about Freedom to Grow by chance. She talks about visiting the unschool, being impressed by its innovative approach, and getting to know its founder Teri Cole-Smith. Smothers describes working first working as an intern, and then transitioning into a full-time teacher after graduating from her master's program.

Keywords: alternative education; creativity; emotional intelligence; innovative; unschooling

00:20:46 - "Unschooling" philosophy

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Before we get a little further, can you just kind of describe unschooling and how then it was manifested in this unschool?

Segment Synopsis: Smothers talks about the origin of the "unschooling" movement, Freedom to Grow's interpretation of that philosophy, and how the curriculum is interest-based rather than standards-based. Smothers also talks about Teri Cole-Smith's original idea for an unschool and the work she did in funding the school and getting buy-in from parents. She talks about how her and Cole-Smith's different personalities complemented each other.

Keywords: alternative education; behavior problems; curriculum; intrinsic motivation; public education; public school; standards

00:25:54 - "Unschooling" yourself as a teacher

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So kinda of the question I want to get to...

Segment Synopsis: Smothers talks about learning to be more relaxed, and how that translated into going natural with her hair at the same time. She describes pushing the traditional boundaries with interacting with children by resisting saying "no" and letting them learn through through their own process. Smother talks about being a mother, relating to parents, and the diversity of family backgrounds represented by the children at the school.

Keywords: agency; conflict resolution; debate; difference; diversity; faith; interaction; motherhood; parenting

00:34:12 - Becoming director of Freedom to Grow

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So you became the director the school after Teri in 2012, right?

Segment Synopsis: Smother recalls deciding to buy the school after the founder Teri had to leave. She talks about her transition to director, continuing Teri's vision for the school, and learning about her own teaching style through the process. Smothers discusses the initial challenges in her new role, but also describes her accomplishment in creating a culture of community in the school.

Keywords: Evan McGown; Wild Intelligence; challenge; discipline; facilitator; life coach; mentorship

00:42:00 - Children's adapation to unschool / Other alt-ed options

Play segment

Partial Transcript: What's the experience of when a kid comes to the school for the first time for the first year?

Segment Synopsis: Smothers talks about kids' adaptation process when first starting at Freedom to Grow. She talks about organizing field trips focused on real-world experiences, interdisciplinary learning, and community service. Smothers also talks about what happens when kids age out of Freedom to Grow at the age of twelve, as well as other alternative education opportunities in the area, such as Washika School, Double Helix STEAM Academy, and Bristle Cone Farms.

Keywords: Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery; agricultural education; ancestry; genetics; interdisciplinary; lifelong learning; montessori; volunteering

00:50:39 - Popularizing the alt-ed movement

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So there's a few, but not enough if you ask me.

Segment Synopsis: Smothers discusses the regional disparity in prevalence of unschools between the west coast, northeast, and the south. She describes her idea for a conference to bring awareness and legitimacy to the alternative education movement, briefly mentions the historical precedents of the modern school system, and describes her vision for her school as an incubator for alternative teaching and parenting models.

Keywords: alternatives; education movement; parenting; school model; school system; teacher training