The impact a person of authority has over a child becomes strikingly apparent in the book Educated, a memoir from Tara Westover. She recounts the decades of physical and mental abuse her parents and siblings unleashed while growing up in rural Idaho. This story illustrates the important role education and diverse life experiences bestow in shaping the belief systems we carry with us throughout our lives.
The book begins with young Tara living under an oppressive father, whose twisted beliefs are scored by survivalism, distrust of the government, and an unwavering belief in the Morman church. Their father rules over the family by filling their minds with endless delusions depicting the end of days, a corrupt socialist government, and distrust of outsiders. He fills their days, performing the Lord’s edict by requiring everyone to prepare for a forthcoming apocalypse.
Tara is withheld from public schooling, forced into dangerous work, and tormented by her brothers. As time passes, she realizes a formal education is a way out of this lifestyle. Without help from her parents, she procures the books and resources necessary to study on her own. Eventually scoring high enough on the ACT, to get into Brigham Young University. At 17 years old, and with no previous formal schooling, she is about to begin college.
As Tara’s college education began taking root, it became apparent the belittling, oppression, and abuse endured by her family was no longer acceptable. “I did not have the language I have now.”, Tara said as she recalled the countless times her brother Shawn used racial slurs to summon her. I did not have the language. That is a powerful statement, bringing into focus the lack of education played in oppressing her. In fact, I believe it is one of the most fundamental statements in the book. This is one of the turning points, where lessons learned in college call into question the ideas put forth by her family. Until BYU, she received no formal education from either parents or formal schooling.
Tara’s story is a warning. Without broad education, we lack the reference points to assess right and wrong. We can’t connect with people from other backgrounds to make rational decisions based on shared experiences, facts, and evidence. An education gives us the “language” and “experiences” necessary to live in a civil society.