Thursday, April 12, 2018

Educated - by Tara Westover

Raised and home-schooled by survivalist parents in the Idaho mountains Tara Westover rejected her family's admonishments not to go to college and enrolled in Brigham Young University (BYU) before she turned 18. Ultimately she becomes a Cambridge-educated PhD, but not without painfully examining her role in the family. Her father's conspiracy theories about universities and the Illuminati were made known to her long before she thought about going to college herself. Her mother had taken charge of her children's homeschooling, which mostly consisted of letting them learn what they wanted when they wanted, and included occasional trips to "the Carnegie library in the center of town".

Westover recognized that she was one of the least disciplined of her siblings when it came to "doing school" which gave her a lot of reason to doubt her abilities when she arrived at BYU. Her misgivings were magnified when she discovered that her classmates had an understanding of US culture and history that she did not share. Her realization that everyone else knew what the Holocaust was, for instance, caused her not only embarrassment, but also opened her eyes to the fact that her peers shared a collective knowledge that she was missing. She did not even know what she did not know.

If Westover had anxieties about her place at BYU they were only compounded when she arrived at Cambridge. Upon her arrival on campus she and her denizens were invited to take a tour of the chapel, including the roof. She describes the experience of watching her classmates, and her professor fight the wind on top of the building as they cling to the wall while she climbs higher. Finally explaining to her professor that "she'd roofed [her] share of hay sheds" and that
The wind is just wind. You could withstand these gusts on the ground, so you can withstand them in the air. There is no difference. Except the difference you make in your head...I'm just standing...You are all trying to compensate...You've made yourselves vulnerable. If you could just control your panic, this wind would be nothing.
Even this insight though, was accompanied by apprehension
I wanted the mind of a scholar, but it seemed that Dr. Kerry saw in me the mind of a roofer. The other students belonged in a library; I belonged on a crane.
Her ultimate success in earning her PhD demonstrates that she certainly did belong in a library, and the final third of the book (from the time she lands in Cambridge for the first time) is scattered with references to using it. This stands in stark contrast to the first 200 (plus) pages, where there is only one.

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