From the Desk of Chancellor Dwight C. Watson

Book cover image of Educated

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

One in a series of reviews contributed by Chancellor Dwight C. Watson

Education has always been a lifelong pursuit for me.  I always knew that education was an access opportunity and with it came positional and economic attainment.  To be educated was also more than just utilitarian – to possess knowledge, wisdom, and to consume experiential and formal learning was my deepest passion. And I was a victim of my passions.  I always said, “I do not invest in material things, but experiences.”  I had my lofty notions of education until I read the real, raw, and relevant biography of Tara Westover.  How appropriate is the title, Educated – how stark is the content.

Tara Westover recalls living on a rural farm in Idaho, hunting with her brothers, working in the family junk yard, believing in her Mormon faith, taking in her surroundings at a young age, breathing in the crisp air and running through the valleys and hills. She learned a lot from her experiences on the farm, not knowing her date of birth, being born without a birth certificate, being born at home by a midwife.  This was no pioneering experience, this was in the mid-1980s. This was not a traditional education as Tara grew up with a paranoid father who was consistently preparing for the end of the world and believed the government brainwashed its citizens. Her mother was an herbalist and did not believe in modern medicine. Tara was schooled by life, not really homeschooled. Completely self-sufficient, Tara and her family isolated themselves from reality, which led to their own twisted view of the world. She struggled to work against a family that believed education and the government were corrupt.

This book was selected as a retreat read for the Cabinet.  We chose this book because it gave an alternative account of what it meant to be educated.  Through this book, we realized that Tara became educated not through the traditional means, but through knowledge discovery and how that knowledge shaped her being.  The book revealed to us that we all were educated in different ways and had our own ways of being.  We learned how our educational paths influenced our choices and although we had different paths and choices, we all were able to value and learn from our education.  Unlike Tara, we did not have to fight for our education or be tormented due to the fact that we were pursuing an education.

During our discussions, we deliberated and discussed such questions as: What is the nature of wisdom?  Can something wicked and deceitful teach you more than something that is pure and wholesome?  Do you learn more from the good times or the bad times?  Whatever doesn’t kill you, does it make you stronger or wiser?  These answers were juxtaposed to Tara’s tug-of-war life in which she had to experience near death in order to learn how to survive and thrive.

This book was ideal for us as higher education personnel because we recognize that students come to us from all walks of life seeking some form of education from the university. They have been shaped by their paths and now they enter the university to be misshapen or transformed. This reinvention begins as soon as students experience cognitive dissonance when they confront something new that does not align with what they already know.  These intellectual epiphanies conjure what it means to be educated. 

I found this book very difficult to read because every page was another assault on what I believed and how I was taught.  I was terrified for Tara and the harshness of her environment.  And the adage of whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger was always in my mind, but often I was thinking that whatever doesn’t make you stronger can make you dead. So instead of reading this as a memoir, I read it as a homicide mystery in which each impending adventure of Tara’s childhood could have been the end of her life. I had to remind myself at times that I wasn’t reading a cult fiction novel and that Tara and her family were real. The physical and emotional abuse made me want to put it down and forget about it. The manipulation that Tara went through at the hands of her brother left me speechless. While not unique, family issues are still so taboo. Brainwashing your own self into thinking it’s your fault, that it wasn’t as bad as you had imagined it, will hit way too close for comfort for a lot of people. Tara Westover’s writing was haunting and her courage to get an education and stand up to her family was inspiring. I recommend it, if you can suppress your fears. 

Spring 2020: Yes! You may borrow this book! Use the Drive-Up Library Pick Up link on the library home page.

Learn more about Tara Westover at her official website.

About Ellen Latorraca

Reference & Instruction Librarian Liaison for the College of Education & Professional Studies
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