Author: Tara Westover
APA Style Citation
Westover, T. (2018). Educated: A memoir. Random House.
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Tara Westover’s book describes her upbringing in an ultra-religious, paranoid, and isolated household in rural Idaho. Because of Tara’s father’s paranoia, the household lived mostly off grid. Tara’s mother made medicinal herbs for other families who did not trust traditional medicines and served as a midwife for families who did not want to go to the hospital or did not want the requirement of registering their newborn for a social security card involving recognition from the government. Tara’s father ran a scrap metal business from of their property and was occasionally hired out to do construction work. Tara and her siblings were homeschooled, which mostly involved reading a few old textbooks in their basement.
Tara was the youngest in her family and some of her siblings got married early to others in their ultraconservative church, while others drove trucks, and one brother went off to study at university, which outraged her father essentially ending their relationship. Tara began working in the family scrap yard at a young age with metal being flung over her head and her father expecting her to use and operate heavy mechanical equipment as her older brothers had done. Safety protocols were non-existent and cuts from the metal were frequent, as were accidents with equipment that could have easily been avoided. Tara’s father was badly burned and nearly died and her mother often served as a pseudo-surgeon because of the families refusal to go to the local hospital after a scrap metal injury.
Tara discovered a love for singing and performed at church, as well as in a number of local plays. Surprisingly, her father supported this and encouraged her signing but her attire often had to be modified to adhere to the strict requirements for how females in the church should dress.
In addition to the lack of education and dangerous back-breaking work, Tara faced abuse by her older brother. While her brother often supported her and encouraged her, he would fly into a rage and pull her by the hair, put her head in the toilet, or find other ways to abuse her both emotionally and physically. Eventually, she put a lock on her door to protect herself and while it was evident to all in the family that the abuse was occurring, neither of her parents intervened to stop it.
By the time Tara was a teenager, she decided she also wanted to attend university and studied independently for her SAT in order to score high enough to attend. Her father knew she was studying but did little to support her perhaps believing that she would not get in. She did.
When Tara arrived at Brigham Young University (BYU) a whole separate world opened up to her. While she did not have the type of clothes or behaviors as others (washing and cleaning up the apartment became sources of tension with her roommates), she did excel at her studies and worked hard to catch up on all that she had missed out on. Basic historical facts had been distorted in her world and she had never done much writing, so she had to work hard to meet the expectations of the university.
Despite the distance from her family, they expected Tara to adhere to the same conservative standards as when she was growing up. She felt tension between her new and old worlds and began to question the teaching of her parents, as well as the neglect, denial, and abuse that had taken place. She earned a scholarship, which allowed her to stay at school and eventually attended graduate school at Trinity College in Cambridge. Despite her outstanding academic record, she still felt uncomfortable in social situations and still lacked funds for stylish clothing or knowing how to behave in novel situations.
Tara eventually attended graduate school at Harvard and found new confidence in her academic abilities and in calling out her family for not intervening while she suffered abuse at the hands of her older brother. While her older sister confided that he had done the same to her, she was mute when it came time for a family confrontation. Tara’s father did not believe the accusation even though he had witnessed the abuse himself. Her brother harassed Tara and threatened to kill her or hire an assassin, still her parents did not believe her. Eventually, she cut them out of her life but was able to rekindle a relationship with some of her other brothers.
She recalls her tragic upbringing no longer as a harrowing story of terror and isolation, but now describes it as “An Education.”
Other Related Resources
PBS NewsHour- “Educated” author Tara Westover answers your questions (extended version)
Aspen Institute- Educated: A Conversation with Tara Westover
National Public Radio Interview with Tara Westover
Vogue: Tara Westover on living off the Grid
Psychological Figures and Concepts