“To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s.” – Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for 69 weeks. Everyone that I know who has read it has only positive things to say. I am happy to say that I can now add my name to that list. I finished it last week, but I am still thinking about it and already recommending it to anyone that I know.
Tara Westover grew up in a Mormon survivalist family in Idaho, which doesn’t believe in the government or the medical establishment. Anything that can be manipulated by the government is seen as a danger, including schools. Any illness or injury is treated by their mother, who is an herbalist, and the little education they do get is done at home. However, one by one, Tara’s siblings leave the house to either find jobs or to get the education that they couldn’t get at home.
At first Tara doesn’t understand why her siblings would want to leave and be “under the government’s control”, but as she gets older and the illusion that her father has built begins to fade, Tara begins to yearn to get off the mountain. She begins to study so she can take the ACT exam and at the age of 17 she enters a classroom for the first time at college.
While Tara’s story is not necessarily new (e.g. The Glass Castle), it is still just as powerful, because it is yet another example of why education is so important. It is hard to believe that there are families that still don’t believe in education in the 21st century and it made me appreciate the opportunities that were offered to me.
What I loved about this book is seeing how Tara grows once she does go to college. It makes your heart squeeze every time her eyes are opened to a new thing. And yet, you can’t help but feel bad for her, especially in her first year as she goes through many of the hiccups that most of us get over in middle or high school. While you know that her education is limited during her childhood, you don’t really grasp it until her ignorance is put on display. I was shocked that she didn’t even know about the Holocaust, and found myself getting protective over her. I got angry at the other students and the professor who thought she was making a joke and I quietly soothed her as she subsequently researched it and learned the truth. She has many more of these moments and it was heartwarming to see the curtain fall away.
“I had discerned the ways in which we had been sculpted by a tradition given to us by others, a tradition of which we were either willfully or accidentally ignorant. I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.”
Despite her ability to make great leaps and bounds at school, she inevitably falls a few steps back every time she goes home. It is the constant struggle that Tara deals with as she tries to make a life for herself without severing ties with her family. She loves her family despite all their shortcomings and every time she is forced to make a choice between them and her education, it is devastating and causes a setback.
“It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.”
This book will make you angry. It will make you sad. It will make you happy. The fact that Tara didn’t step into a classroom until she was 17 and she was able to not only graduate college, but go on to get her doctorate degrees is absolutely mind blowing. It just reinforces the old adage that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it.
“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”