Wednesday, April 24, 2019

I loved "Educated" by Tara Westover and you will, too

Educated by Tara WestoverEducated by Tara Westover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.”

"Educated" traces Tara Westover’s struggle to get an education despite a domineering, radical father who mainly wanted his family to work in his junkyard and obediently listen to rants about the government and religion. She and her siblings were supposedly being homeschooled, but her father thwarted that so often that by the time she was 8 her daily routine included no schooling at all. Any learning after that was self-directed, she wrote: “You could learn anything you could teach yourself, after your work was done.”

Her mother tried to teach them for a time, but eventually accepted her father’s way of looking at education. “All that really matters … is that you kids learn to read. That other twaddle is just brainwashing,” she told Tara.

It’s an amazing story, and beautifully written. The journey from the enclosed bubble she lived in with her parents to the foreign world of college was akin to being dropped on another planet and trying to make her way – so alien as to be almost incomprehensible. Learning expands your mind and your horizons, but it isn’t always painless.

This book highlighted for me one of the amazing things about any family – it is its own weird little world. When you’re a child, it’s the only world you know. As you become an adult, you gradually realize all the ways your family may be odd, that *you* may be odd. It can be little things, like never having eaten a certain type of food and seeing others react to that with shock. You’ve never had a mango?! HOW is that possible? Well, your parents never bought mangos, that’s how. Or a family dynamic that seems like the norm to you is shocking to outsiders (in Tara’s case, this was many things, but let’s go with her abusive older brother as one of the biggies). Or you’d never heard of something major, like the Holocaust, until you went to college (this actually happened to Tara, and led to a humiliating misunderstanding in class). But you’d never known any of it was considered unusual, or in some cases very bad and even abusive, until you got older and started learning about the world from a new perspective.

This book details an extreme case of what it’s like when someone wrestles themselves free of the restrictive shell that was her family life and all the ways, all the years, it took to see the world with her own eyes and with an education to help her understand it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if she still has little stumbling blocks, still comes to find something she’d thought was true isn’t, or that some phrase or habit or way of seeing things that she has is actually kind of bonkers to most people. I can relate to this a bit myself from my own family, which was nowhere near as extreme as hers, but which left me having to figure out and learn a lot that I think others just knew because they saw it all their life at home. My childhood left me feeling like the world at home was upside down, like anything that was common sense to most was ridiculous to my parents. It’s impossible to use reason with that sometimes, and leaves you wondering if maybe you’re the one that’s wrong. Maybe day really IS night because your parents keep insisting this is so. It makes you question yourself, your own reason. And it feels like drowning when you have to fight so hard to do or learn things that other kids are encouraged and helped to do by their parents. I had this to a fair degree myself growing up; Tara Westover had it to a staggering degree.

Tara not only survived it all, she is crushing it. She got a Ph.D. from Cambridge, wrote a bestseller, and has traveled the world. They say nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and her story proves that again and again. Every step may have been a battle with her family and herself, but the reward was the world of knowledge, and the outside world itself, that she gave to herself through education.

Buy Educated on Amazon

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