Educated is an amazing, 5-star book because Tara Westover, the author and focus of this autobiography, has lived an amazing life. She was raised by survivalists in the mountains of Idaho and was not allowed to attend school. Her father dominated the household and he was suspicious of all institutions – government, doctors, medicine, science, and schools, to name a few. He was convinced that the government would come after the family, and they each had a “head for the hills” bag in the event that happened.
Tara’s mother was a midwife and herbalist (because her father didn’t want his family to rely on doctors) and Tara was often her assistant. She also worked in her father’s junkyard, which was an extremely dangerous job because of her father’s total disregard for the safety of Tara and her brothers. Her mother routinely tended to the family’s concussions, gashes, and serious burns.
Reflecting back on her growing up years, Tara said that “my life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” She began finding her own voice when she started teaching herself reading and math in spite of her father’s disapproval. She is exceptionally bright and was admitted to Brigham Young University at the age of 17. After graduating from BYU, she attended Cambridge University in London.
Still, Tara was not on the same level as her college classmates. Others had ordinary knowledge that she did not, like basic social skills, how to form friendships, how to receive help and kindness from others, and the importance of cleanliness. “I could tolerate any form of cruelty better than kindness. Praise was a poison to me; I choked on it.” Tara was also unaware of historical world events like the holocaust and the U.S. civil rights movement because “what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others.”
Educated is a story about an extraordinary woman rising up in the face of extraordinary obstacles; about how interconnected we are with each other and our history; about how we can be the change and the help that a person needs to transform their unfortunate circumstances into a productive and happy life; about the absolute, paramount importance of a free, public education throughout the world; about the debilitating impact of being raised by a parent suffering from mental illness; and about how change does not happy overnight, but takes time. I am impatient, and so this last lesson, is the hardest one for me.
So many big topics to reflect on, including how we become the person that we are today through our vast education. We are taught not only by teachers but also by parents, friends, co-workers, books, churches, the news, and all the other ways that we collect information in this modern world. We are also taught by the many experiences we have with each other, the places we visit, and the new things that we try. In the words of the author, “The decisions I made after that moment were not the ones she would have made. They were the choices of a changed person, a new self. You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”
This month is the celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Reading Tara Westover’s Education – about a woman and by a woman – is one of the many ones we can celebrate.
In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am reading books by women and about women. What are you doing to celebrate?
Have you read Education? If so, what did you learn?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?