I’m trying a new feature on the blog. Each Thursday, I’m going to dig into my reading archives to feature a relevant backlist title. As students are heading back to the classroom (or onto their computers for distance learning), I thought it would be good to look back on a title that focuses on what schooling really means.
I listened to Educated by Tara Westover as an audiobook and found that to be a great way to take in the story. While not narrated by the author, I think the audiobook provides good insight into the memoir. This book was a hard listen. It reveals the difficult upbringing and educational transformation of Westover. That upbringing involved mental and emotional abuse by a mentally ill, survivalist father and physical and emotional abuse by a sibling. Submission by her mother to her father’s will added insult to injury, leaving Tara and her siblings at the mercy of their unstable father. The memoir looks at the issue of reality and whose reality is accurate. It also shows the eye-opening growth of Tara from an unschooled mountain child to a well educated and “whole” woman with a Ph.D from Harvard.
The book is also a good investigation into the relationship between learning and schooling. Westover shows that her education wasn’t just in a classroom, but in the mountains and fields of her hometown, a hardscrabble learning experience that formed her character and her ambitions to gain a traditional education that helped transform her outlook on truth and the wider world.
I can’t say the book was enjoyable, but it was a fascinating look at the psychological mind games and emotional manipulation Tara says she endured. Her story seems fantastical, but credible; something you don’t realize happens in modern society. It looks at a unique pocket of America that relies on home cures, home schooling, and extreme versions of Mormon faith to create what they think is a self-sufficient, off-the-grid lifestyle. Tara is sure in the introduction to say that the book is not an indictment of Mormonism or Mormons, but is her experience with her family within an extreme version of that faith. It is a gritty tale, difficult to hear but arresting in its honesty.
The book is a great motivator in this challenging back-to-school season. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a unique perspective on what it means to be educated. Just be sure to follow it up with something light.