By Tara Westover
What does it mean to be educated? That was one of the first topics of conversation I wrote about. So no wonder I was drawn to a book on the shelves as I waited for my next long haul plane ride to depart. I snapped a picture of the cover after quickly flicking through the pages and thought “yup, that’s enough”. I already knew I wanted to read this book. It has been awhile since I’ve actually come to possess the book in my hands. And a large print copy at that as it was the only one the library had. Given my mothers severe addiction to buying books she’s never read, I have a love of libraries where I can give books back. Point is, I went through the pages fast, maybe helped by the large print, or short chapters but also by the spell binding story that Tara painted.
Tara was homeschooled. But that is a stretch. Her parents didn’t really home school her, rather they just kept her home and out of school. She worked on the scrap heap with her dad, helped her mother deliver babies and learned to stay out of her brother’s way. She was one of many brothers and sisters, and a younger one at that. So, when one of her older brothers started talking about college and how she should apply, he was introducing her into another world.
Then she had to take the ACT’s. I have feelings about standardized testing and reading her accounts didn’t help. In her case it did provide a good reference point for her that she knew nothing. She failed, studied, and passed the second time. Then she gets into college, where she starts to learn. At least learn the facts that we accept the general public should all know. We might not all know how to do vector calculus, but Tara sure didn’t. In her first history class, she asked what the word Holocaust meant. She had no idea until after she searched the new word on the internet. Her knew found awareness that she knew nothing, threw her into a feverish learning frenzy. She also became too embarrassed to ever ask a question in class again.
Cutting out a hundred pages or so of the text, she is wildly successful, is taken under the wing of a few professors, gets some scholarships to study at Cambridge and Harvard. Thus, coming away with her PhD. But she never graduated high school. Oh that’s another story that is like my mum but for another day.
This education she received included algebra, music, French, history and all the topics you could ever find in a course catalogue. As the story is a memoir, Tara also learned about herself. Where she fit in the world. Where she fit in her parent’s warped version of the world. It was really a voyage of self-discovery. Through her schooling, Tara really ended up learning about herself, but she changed so much she hardly recognized her ‘uneducated’ self as she says here:
“The distance – physical and mental – that had been traversed in the last decade nearly stopped my breath, and I wondered if perhaps I had changed too much. All my studying, reading, thinking, traveling, had it transformed me into someone who no longer belonged anywhere? I thought of the girl who, knowing nothing beyond her junkyard and her mountain, had stared at a screen, watching as two planes sailed into strange white pillars. Her classroom was a heap of junk. Her textbooks, slates of scrap. And yet she had something precious that I – despite all my opportunities, or maybe because of them – did not.”
The one who really made Tara believe that she could be both the girl in the scrap yard and the girl with a Cambridge degree was her teacher. (Shout out to all the awesome teachers out there). Throughout the book the words of her professor Dr. Kerry carry with her as she struggles to become who she is.
“You are not fool’s gold, shining only under a particular light. Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were. It was always in you. Not in Cambridge. In you. You are gold. And returning to BYU, or even to that mountain you came from, will not change who you are. It may change how others see you, it may even change how you see yourself – even gold appears dull in some lighting – but that is the illusion. And it always was”.
You can see why those words would take Tara some time to digest. She had changed so much that she thought she wasn’t whom she was supposed to be anymore. But whom she was and whom her parents wanted her to be were very different people.
In short, it seems that we all go through a different form of education and it’s as much about learning about ourselves as it is about Newton and Churchill. While Tara didn’t have the basic facts to start off her college career with, she had an education most of her peers did not. This book further confirmed for me that there are many different types of intelligence and not all come from a book. Furthermore, never judge a book by its cover. Literally and figuratively. The picture on the large print copy of this book was different than the cover I saw in the airport, but I double checked the author and it was correct. Nor should Tara be judged by her late start to the book facts or over-sized, worn clothes. She is a remarkable women whom was very brave to share her story so honestly.
If you want to read more about Tara or Edcuated, check out her website:
Or better yet, read her book for yourself, choosing from one of the many covers seen below: