Educated review: Leap from faith

Tara Westover’s decision to venture out in the world and gain an education was made by her when she was 16. Determined to achieve this goal, she extricated herself from the narrow constraints of a fundamentalist Mormon family and her life in the foothills of rural, mountainous Idaho. It was an isolated existence under the exacting supervision of a compassionate father who was zealous in his love of Nature and disdainful of the “World of Man” and its regulated education system.

Leaving the comfort zone

Tara lacks any proof of identity or testimonials to confirm her existence; no birth certificate or school admission records. She has grown up preparing for the “Days of Abomination, watching for the sun to darken, for the moon to drip as if with blood.” She spends her “summers bottling peaches and winters rotating supplies.” From this education in the lap of nature, she would make the life-changing leap to academic institutions like Cambridge and Harvard.

Her memoir, Educated, is a valuable lesson in the process of self-invention even if it means moving away from her family. She realises that education is an exercise in achieving a “will to change,” to accommodate and adapt, and break down rigid barriers with new perspectives gained from novel experiences. At 22, it is daunting to be at Cambridge without the familiar comfort of her surroundings, her “jagged little piece of Idaho,” the usual lessons from her father or the melodious strains of classical music she so enjoyed with one of her brothers.

Sensitive portrayal

The memoir is her life story told from the perspective of a sensitive young girl subjected to a tough life as a child who masters mathematics at home, goes to Brigham Young University and later to Cambridge. Being an academic trained only in critical writing she has little idea about creative writing but has inculcated from her upbringing the lesson imparted by her parents: “You can teach yourself anything better than someone else can teach it to you.”

Through reading short stories, she educates herself in creative compositions following the structure of a short story adeptly used in each chapter of her memoir which remarkably reads more like fiction than history. She elaborates this act of de-schooling in her recent interview: “I do think that we take people’s ability to self-teach away by creating this idea that someone else has to do this for you, that you have to take a course, you have to do it in some formal way. Any curriculum that you design for yourself is going to be better, even if it’s not the absolute perfect one. You will follow what you care about.”

Many references

Wanting to recreate the atmosphere of her home she narrates the story of her growing-up years and how she learnt a lesson from Isaiah Berlin’s book on liberty and from Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’.

His death from a cancerous toe that he would not allow the surgeons to amputate because of his Rastafarian belief in the “whole body” takes her back to her young days when doctors were shunned by her family: “We were bruised and gashed and concussed, had our legs set on fire and our heads cut open. We had lived in... a kind of constant terror... because Dad always put faith before safety... after the first car crash, after the second, after the bin, the fire, the pallet. And it was us who paid.”

The severity of her father’s religious belief began to stifle her especially his patriarchal control with no place for her education in liberty or feminist theory. But she knew that her only redemption lay in being educated by shunning any phobia of her ignorance about basic facts of cultural life in the company of her newly found friends. She had no knowledge of the Holocaust genocide and had never heard of Napoleon, Martin Luther King or the Civil Rights Movement.

Passion for learning

The abrupt departure of her brother for the university becomes for her “the seed of curiosity” that required “nothing more than time and boredom to grow” into a passion for learning “not as a means to making a living but a way of making a person” capable of taking, in her own words, “custody of my own mind....” Tara’s slow but sure escape from the constrictions of her family life paves the way for her deliverance from an inhibiting world.

She is emboldened to ask the question to which she has no ready answer: “how to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to create my own mind, is it possible to reconcile her old and new selves?” The extraordinary challenge of incorporating the hard lessons inculcated in her as a young girl with the accommodation to the harder but exciting reality of the vast open world become the tension of the creative force behind her extraordinary story.

Educated; Tara Westover, Hutchinson, ₹599.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 12:04:39 PM |

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