Educated by Tara Westover
Read: 9 - 13 June 2020
Release year: 2018
Language: English

Tara Westover's story in her memoir Educated is a great example of what a big influence your upbringing and education can have on your life. When you grow up as a child, your thoughts and beliefs are mostly formed by your environment. As an adult you can either agree with this kind of view or you can realise you want to live your life in a different way. The latter is what happened to Tara and her story shows how hard this whole process is.

My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.

Tara grew up in a Mormon survivalist home where she was denied a birth certificate, an education and proper medical care. On top of that, she endured both emotional and physical abuse in her family home. Her father suffers from politically charged paranoia whereby he beliefs the government has been corrupted. By stocking up on food and guns, he prepares the family for the day the world will end or for the day they have to defend themselves when the government will invade their house. Through her education later in life, Tara suspects her father might have a bipolar disorder.

I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.

Tara's mother is an unlicensed midwife and serves as the family 'doctor'. Whenever there is an accident and someone gets hurt, her mother treats the wounded with herbs, essential oils or energy healing as the family rejects science and medicine. Not only do they get caught up in two major car accidents, but as the family works in a scrapyard with very dangerous working conditions, there are also incidents causing cuts in legs, lost fingers, head injuries and severe burns. In none of those situations they resort to a hospital or medicine. When Tara gets tonsillitis, her father tells her to stand outside with her mouth open so the sun can heal her. She follows these instructions for a month (!).

God and his angels are here, working right alongside us. They won’t let you get hurt. - Tara's father

Besides her parent's toxic upbringing, Tara also has an older brother with a violent side that worsens after he suffers a head trauma. Her brother basically treats her like trash, abusing her in both a physical and emotional way. He chokes her, puts her head in the toilet, pins her down to the floor and calls her a whore for wearing make up. At the same time he is also fiercely protective of her when it comes to other people treating her badly. Their parents both condone this behaviour, even after witnessing it firsthand.

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them. You can miss a person every day, and still be glad that they are no longer in your life.

As two of her siblings leave the family home to take on an education, Tara gets curious and tries to follow in their footsteps. She finds a way to take the ACT, a test for college admission, educating herself by reading school books. Despite her father's objections she attends college. Here she slowly learns how different the world can be outside of her family home, not only by witnessing the different lives of her roommates, but also by her different classes. In college, for example, she first learns about the Holocaust and also gets introduced to antibiotics for the first time when she falls ill. In this stage of her life, Tara realises more and more how she has been denied accurate information in her life, and because of this she missed out on several opportunities. Tara manages to complete a PhD degree at Cambridge, but also to break free from her controlling and isolated family.

An education is not so much about making a living as making a person.

It is incredible that Tara ends up getting a PhD while she never received a proper education during her childhood. This fact on its own already requires a lot of resilience, discipline and perseverance, let alone the struggle she went through breaking free from her toxic family. I can't even imagine how hard it must have been to realise the world is so much more bigger and different than her isolated, naive one at her family home. She managed to reinvent herself after being brainwashed by her parents for the majority of her life. I applaud her and other people who are strong enough to break the cycle in these kind of situations.