Mother had always said we could go to school if we wanted. We just had to ask Dad, she said. Then we could go. But I didn’t ask. There was something in the hard line of my father’s face, in the quiet sigh of supplication he made every morning before he began family prayer, that made me think my curiosity was an obscenity, an affront to all he’d sacrificed to raise me.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a difficult and emotional story to read. Yet I could not put it down. Westover has a determination and grit about her that made me want to read her story. Many of us have lived a childhood of abuse in varying degrees. I suppose my own experience draws me to the stories of others who have suffered abuse as well.
Westover’s family lives off the grid in Idaho. Husband and father believes the government is out to get them. They must protect themselves. He keeps his family so isolated no one could get to them. It is how he ensures the children never learn the truth about their country.
Most of the seven children didn’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. There were no medical records for any of the family because they had never seen a doctor or been in a hospital. The children weren’t allowed to attend public school. Instead, they were “homeschooled” by their mother. They were taught to make survivalist kits and canned many jars of fruits. Exercises were practiced in case of an unexpected siege. Not the kind of education considered normal according to our country’s standards.
Westover learned midwifery and herbalism at her mother’s side. She also worked with her siblings in her father’s junkyard salvaging scrap metal. Often she dealt with various injuries resulting from the labor in the junkyard. Her parents didn’t believe in doctors and hospitals. Instead, they believed the power to heal rested in herbal tinctures and the Lord’s power.
One of Westover’s brothers leaves to attend Brigham Young University. She begins to see possibilities away from home. She begins to mentally question her father’s preaching against education, healthcare, and more. Despite her lack of education, Westover begins to study for the ACT exam. She also teaches herself math, grammar, and science. Westover hoped to get a score that would qualify her for admittance to BYU.
At age 17, Tara Westover begins her education. She has waited a lifetime for this experience. One example that sticks with me is a class in which the lecturer touches on the Holocaust. Westover had no idea what the Holocaust was. No one had ever mentioned it; no one in her family likely knew too much about it. This seems impossible in a country where an education is free for all.
Many have questioned the validity of Westover’s story. I believe we shouldn’t question another’s telling of their story. We each have a story to tell, and it is ours to tell as we remember it.
Tara Westover has done that. She has told her story of her childhood which left her uneducated and abused. Then she tells of passing the ACT and gaining admittance to BYU, on to Harvard, Cambridge, and beyond. It has taken determination and grit to do what Westover has accomplished.
If you enjoy memoir and/or autobiographical works, Educated may be a book you’d enjoy. Be prepared for the difficult portions. Throughout it all, Tara Westover has prepared herself for the woman she has become today.