The Possibility of Becoming Educated

Oct 3, 2019

To navigate the world, Westover had to build knowledge of a history that did not include such significant world events as the Holocaust.
Credit Holocaust Museum, Washington DC / Wikimedia Commons

“On the highway below, the school bus rolls past without stopping. I am only seven, but I understand that it is this fact more than any other that makes my family different. We don't go to school.”

So says Tara Westover in her memoir, Educated.

Until she turned 17, Tara Westover never did go to school, she never went to a doctor, she did not have the life of a “normal” child growing up in the United States. Instead, Westover was the brainwashed child of a survivalist/isolationist father whose paranoid ideas ruled the family.

And yet Tara Westover did manage to go to school.  In fact, she managed to earn her PhD., travel the world, and write a #1 best-seller.

Reading Educated will provide you with a testament to the resilience of human beings.  It will give you hope that, no matter where you start, you can get to where you want to go, turn your life around, and achieve things you had perhaps never even dreamed of.

Westover chronicles--without judgement—her life with a family who routinely performed “Doomsday drills,” whose babies were born at home without medical assistance or birth certificates, who wouldn’t take a child to a doctor in spite of head injuries and broken arms.

Westover was 17 by the time she began educating herself.  She extricated herself from her controlling family.  She taught herself algebra and trigonometry and self-studied for the ACT, which enabled her to gain admission to Brigham Young University. Eventually, she earned her doctorate in intellectual history from Cambridge University.

How hard would that be for anyone?  How hard was it for someone with no background in formal education, someone who hadn’t grown up with class time to read, discuss, watch instructional videos, quiz, create projects, write papers, or work math problems?

In an interview with Lisa O’Kelly for THE GUARDIAN, Westover was asked this question:

“Would you recommend going to college or university with no prior experience of school?”

Her answer: “No! Not at all. I felt like the only dancer on stage who had missed rehearsal. And I made some excruciating missteps, like the time I was in a European history lecture and I asked what the Holocaust was. No one believed I didn’t know. They all thought I was some kind of racist. But then again, after years of knowing virtually nothing at all, I found learning so exciting. I piled up books and read late into the night. Sometimes I barely slept.”

I’m not sure if many of us could have overcome a childhood like Westover’s.  I’m not sure that many of us have the strength and passion to work as hard to make up for all we’ve missed.  I know I don’t.

But Westover’s story gives us hope that we CAN hope, that with hard work and perseverance, we CAN change our lives for the better.

This is Lynne Hewes in Cimarron, believing that anything is possible, even in uncharted waters.