Educated - A Memoir Review
Updated: Jan 31, 2019
by Tara Westover
This memoir was given to me as a Christmas gift in 2018 by one of my closest friends and for those that know me, I usually don’t like books as gifts because I am afraid they will pick out a boring book (I’m obviously very trusting). However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Educated wasn’t just an interesting read in general, but really gave me such a different perspective that I had to do some self reflection myself on the idea of education and family.
The main character is Tara Westwood who is the youngest of 7 children who were born and raised in Idaho. They would be just like any large family with sibling rivalry and invested parents except for the fact that at the age of 10, Tara has never had a birth certificate and has never attended school. While her fellow peers are learning reading, writing, arithmetic, she is canning fruits and vegetables for the ends of time. She is in baggy clothes and has only learned to read by reading the bible and is taught from a young age the government is a giant conspiracy that is out to rule the world and destroy everything and if she is not careful, they will try to take her or her siblings away or worse - murder them. Everything they do is so stay under the radar and be self-sustainable by growing and making their own foods, handling any injuries (no matter how severe) at home and putting it in God’s hands. Even when she begins to experience abuse by one of her dearly loved older brothers, she is taught to be quiet and at times told she is delusional even when the abuse is clearly seen by family members.
While some of her siblings manage to get out of this cycle and go to college and have a different life, some of them stay working for their father collecting and selling scrap metal from an early age. This work has resulted in injuries for all siblings from gashes to severe burns, but the father pays it no mind as he is frantically working and constantly in despair that “someone is out to get them”. By the age of 17, Tara has had enough and applies to colleges under the pretense that she has been “home schooled” this entire time in order to escape the realities of her home. When she begins college and is living with other girls she is horrified at their sense of decency wearing jeans or shirts or revealing clothing. She is even more horrified when she learns some of them also go to church and worship the same God as she. She immediately decides it is because she is more devout and they are simply wolves in sheep’s clothing. However, as she begins to adjust to school and life outside of her hometown, she realizes that her perception was wrong.
She goes through a dual-education where she’s not just learning scholarly lessons, but also learning life lessons. Even though school initially was a place to run to in order to escape her family, it becomes so much more than that as it opens her eyes on history and culture and the beautiful differences in individuals and beliefs. The more enamoured she becomes with school, the more ostracized she becomes from the family in her hometown as if they could only accept her as the simple-minded sheep she was and not the open-minded independent young women she would become. The abusive brother almost kills her a few times when she returns until finally her family has decided that she is the one that is a corruptive influence on him and is no longer welcome back in the family.
Final Rating: 10/10
This book really had such an impact on me when I was reading it and I would definitely recommend to others, especially those that take for granted their opportunity at an education and being raised in a loving home. I am currently working on my graduate degree and I think I often find myself thinking that it’s pointless to get this piece of paper, that half of the stuff taught in school is common sense by now, that it’s just a scam to get money. However, when reading this memoir it made me come face to face with my own bias. To me, school felt like something to do to get more money or a better career, but what was it like for others? Was it an escape from home? A re-education on events or facts you thought you knew?
There was a part in the memoir when Tara is in class and they are discussing the Holocaust as if everyone should know what that is, but Tara asks a question on it and it stuns the entire class into thinking she was making a cruel joke. When she does her independent research on it, she learns that what her father had told her wasn’t even close to the truth. Her father told her it involved about 6 Jews dying, and not the extermination of over 6 million Jews in a mass murder. To everyone in the class, it was a statement of fact, but to Tara is was a pivotal moment of realizing how much she DIDN’T know. In school, she immersed herself in her studies and gained not just knowledge but ideas that changed ideals that she had believed her whole life. This resonated a lot with me because when I really delve into what education means, it’s more than just school. It’s about the process of learning something you didn’t know, or being introduced to a new side of what you thought you knew. Tara didn’t get all of her newfound education through her classes and through her studies, but by her experiences in her classrooms and as a roommate in an apartment and by talking and being open-minded to the peers around her. Yes, I have gained a lot of technical education through school, but where and how can I expand my own education through just being open-minded? To what extent am I like Tara? What else do I have to learn?
On top of re-defining what education means to me, it also made me think about family and how education can change not only what you think of your family, but what your family thinks of you. In the beginning, she stands by her family and their beliefs no matter what. Even when someone outside the family sees her brother beating her up, she pretends to laugh as if “this is just my family, no big deal”. She understands and accepts that her family and situation will never change. When she goes to school and becomes more educated, it still stands true that her family never changes, but she does. As she becomes more open-minded and learns of her peers and their living situations and what mental illness is, she changes as a person to someone who can’t tolerate abuse anymore and to someone who can no longer make excuses for her family and their drastic beliefs. Even though she understands the underlying problems that her family has, she understands something more important. She can’t help change them if they don’t want to change. Even as she shares her own newfound knowledge with her family, they don’t want to hear it. They are more focused with the difference in her as a person than they are with the context she wishes to share. Even in a family that can be loving and fair, there are still things you can learn, whether in school or in individual research, that can change you as an individual - and that’s okay. This can be viewed as an evolution of sorts - no longer of body but of mind and character.
I love books such as this one because it isn’t just a book that is fun to read for the hell of it that you bust out in the middle of vacation to relax. It is the kind of book that makes you question both yourself and those around you. Recognize your bias and don’t be afraid to get Educated.