Book Review: Educated

Reviewed by Hollie Nielsen, AWC Central Scotland 

with contributions from Mary Adams, AWC The Hague

 

Educated: A Memoir, a bestselling autobiography by Tara Westover, chronicles the author’s difficult journey out of a survivalist family in rural Idaho. Tara had no formal schooling as a child, but went on to achieve university and post graduate degrees.

Tara’s family was almost completely isolated from mainstream society. She didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was 17; some of her siblings didn’t even have birth certificates. Her home life was unpredictable and violent; no one intervened when one of her brothers became especially abusive. Educated Ed Team Feb 2021

Inspired by a brother who went to university, Tara decided to try to follow his path. Her quest for knowledge and hard work transformed her, leading her first to Harvard and then to Cambridge University. However, she found her education made it difficult to connect with her family, who did not value her learning or time away from home.

Tara’s early life was so difficult and violent that, had I not known she survived to write the book, I would have been really worried that she died young. Somehow, she managed to educate herself enough to leave home. While she struggled in her tertiary education, she had teachers and friends who supported her and her college-educated brother.

Last month we reviewed Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance. While there are some parallels in the themes about overcoming their parents’ beliefs/addictions, education played less of a role in getting Vance away from home. In addition, he did go to local schools for elementary and secondary school; he just didn’t take his schooling seriously until just about the end of high school. For Vance, the Marines were a main formative experience. For Westover, however, education was the main way she escaped from a dire situation.

Both books examine the impact on children when parents do not exhibit stable and socially normative behavior. It is about growing up in a co-dependency paradigm, where roles and relationships are always tested. Will a child find shelter or will they find more abuse? Does uncertainty create a yearning to learn or does learning represent escape and help to assign some sort of logic to life?

For Westover, learning meant making a choice between family and education. While she chose education, she was very protective of her family and conflicted about leaving home for her education, especially since she went so far from home. She found reconciling with her family, who reject outside society, a challenge with which she continues to wrestle.

Overall, I preferred Educated because I think formal education transformed Tara Westover and her connections to society in general. While education was important to Vance, other phases of his life, such as the Marines, had at least as much influence on his future.

 

Photo Credit: Carol-Lyn McKelvey

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