Author: Tara Westover
Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover 2018
The story of a girl who radically changed her life with the help of education (Educated)
Educated: The school bus passed the turnoff to Westover Farm without stopping. The children of this fanatically religious family stayed out of school and spent their days helping their parents prepare for the apocalypse. The youngest daughter, Tara, was to follow in her mother’s footsteps: marry an Orthodox Mormon and become a midwife. Until one day she decided to change her life herself and go to university, despite the fact that she had never even studied at school.
The book is worth reading, even if you and a girl from a family of religious fanatics, at first glance, have nothing in common. The story of Tara Westover is universal. Everyone who has experienced growing up, separation from the parental family, the conflict of “fathers and children” and the search for their own ideals will find a part of themselves in her memoirs.
In her autobiographical book, Tara talks about how much our upbringing and education influence us. And what to do if they do not harmoniously complement, but contradict each other. If the values that we instilled in childhood do not correspond to our own observations and conclusions about the world. And no matter what choice we make, we betray either our loved ones or ourselves.
Tara grew up on a farm in a large Mormon family in Idaho. Most of the people in their community were moderately religious: they attended church, but they also led an ordinary secular life. Tara’s father, Jean Westover, was very different from them. His views were radical even for other believers: he believed that the state serves the devil and all civil servants, including teachers and doctors, are involved in this.
Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which was organized in 1830. As of 2010, there were about 14 million members of the Church worldwide. Mormons believe in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ. Adhere to a health code of abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and other addictive substances. Their values tend to be family-oriented and maintain a close bond between generations, and close and distant relatives. Mormons follow a strict chastity law that requires fidelity to a heterosexual marriage partner. Often associated with polygamy (or polygamy), which was a hallmark of many early Mormons. However, this is no longer a characteristic of Mormonism: polygamy was abolished by the LDS Church in 1890.
Neither Tara’s father nor his relatives went to the doctors, even if they received serious life-threatening injuries. His wife Faye collected herbs and made tinctures with which she tried to treat everything from scratches to fractures and burns.
Older children still found a time when the father was not so fanatical. He allowed them to go to school, although he believed that home education is much better because teachers brainwash children and do not teach what is really useful in life.
Tara, like other younger children, never went to school. Sometimes the mother tried to teach them at home, but she did not have enough time and a systematic approach, and nothing came of this venture. Homeschooling was limited to teaching children to read and write.
From time to time, the mother handed out textbooks to the children and ordered them to go to their rooms and study. Tara flipped through 50 pages of a math textbook at a time without understanding anything. When she returned to the kitchen, the parents proudly said that their daughter “learned 50 pages of mathematics, and this is the best proof of the effectiveness of home teaching.”
When Tara was five years old, an incident occurred that greatly affected her father. Authorities stormed the home of a Mormon Weaver family whose children were not attending school and accidentally shot the owner and one of the children. Weavers were accused of arms trafficking, and after the death of the mother and child, the rest of the family received compensation from the state. But to the Westover family, the incident looked like the authorities were trying to take the children away from the Weavers. After this event, Jin’s distrust and distaste for the state intensified, as did his anxiety for his family. He bought weapons and forced the children to collect large bags with which they could flee to the mountains if the authorities tried to force them to change their secluded lifestyle. Since then, the Westover’s have spent many days canning homemade peaches that would save them from starvation in the event of a siege or flight into the mountains.
Weapons and food supplies were needed not only to resist the authorities. The father was convinced that Judgment Day (the Second Coming of Christ) was about to come. Most people, including Mormons, did not think so. Gene feared that they would attack his food warehouse during the Second Coming, as his family would be one of the few prepared for harsh, hungry times.
Jean Westover worked long and hard to provide for his large family and stock. Together with his sons, he built sheds and collected and sold scrap metal. As his sons left home one by one to live on their own, Jin could no longer build the sheds himself and focused on scrap metal. He introduced the younger children, Luke and Tara, to this hard and dangerous work. Together they collected iron, steel, aluminum, and copper from a large car dump near their home.
Before her father called Tara to work, the dump was for her a place of games and fantastic battles that she invented with her brother. Hard work and injuries forced her to grow up early and look at this place with different eyes. She began to think more about the world outside the house and the dump.
One day, Tara approached her father with a request to allow her to attend school. In response, he reminded her of the biblical hero Esau, who sold his birthright for lentil stew. He believed that the daughter wants to sell honor and family for the sake of knowledge, which is needed no more than cheap stew. After this conversation, Tara abandoned the idea of getting an education for a long time.
Sometimes the father, as Tara knew him, and the man, as his older brothers still remembered him, seemed to her different people. When Gene married Faye, he was an ordinary young Mormon from a mountain village. In the wedding photo, he looked very happy, not at all like a religious fanatic, constantly preoccupied with preparing for the coming Judgment Day.
After his marriage, Jin’s views gradually became more and more radical. Later, at university, Tara learned that her father’s behavior resembled the symptoms of well-known mental illnesses – bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. As a child, she believed that mentally ill people are those who wear a dead cat instead of a hat or, for example, are in love with a vegetable. Learning that mental disorders may not manifest themselves so clearly, Tara began to analyze the behavior of her father. She knew that his views and actions changed especially when he was 25-30 years old. It is at this age that mental disorders most often develop.
If Tara’s father was ill, he could not have known about it, because he never went to the doctors. And even if he had heard the diagnosis, Jin would not have believed him but would have accused the doctors of conspiracy and lies.
Jin often failed to notice obvious patterns and attributed any events to God’s will. Despite the serious injuries that children periodically received while working in a landfill, he did not consider that this work was too dangerous and not suitable for them.
One day, Tara almost died. Her father asked her to climb into the bucket, which he used to load scrap metal. When he lifts the bucket with a forklift, Tara must jump into a large container of scrap metal, wait for her father to knock over the bucket, and then clean it up. When the father stopped the bucket at the level of the container, as they agreed, Tara did not have time to get out, because she was crushed by metal. Jin didn’t check to see if his daughter had left the ladle, lifted it up, and dumped it into the container with her. Tara’s screams were not heard over the noise of the loader’s engine. Thanks to the fact that she did not fall into a container with metal, but on the ground, she survived and escaped with injuries. The father did not see his fault in what had happened and was disappointed by the sluggishness of his daughter.
Most of Gene’s children were born at home with the help of a midwife and were undocumented. The father tried to be as independent as possible from the government and did not register the children. He believed that this gave them freedom. But the children themselves, when they grew up, understood freedom differently. They left the parental home to live on their own. Without a birth certificate, passport, and driver’s license, they would not be able to find a job and rent a house. It was the receipt of documents that gave Mormon children their freedom.
Despite her husband’s resistance, Faye decided to file paperwork for all the children when Tara was 9 years old. Jin was convinced by his wife’s arguments. All the children were involved in the preparations for the Second Coming, which meant they needed work to earn money and stock up.
But more often, Tara’s mother did not make decisions herself but yielded to her husband. Jin really wanted her to become a midwife, the same kind of private healer that Fay herself had given birth to. He believed that this would provide even greater freedom from the state because the wife would be able to help daughters, daughters-in-law, and other women who would not have to go to doctors for this. Private midwives were visited by those who did not have money to give birth in a hospital, and those who, like Gene, did not trust doctors.
Mormon midwives were not licensed and delivered at their own risk. If something went wrong and the woman in labor or the baby died, the midwife could go to jail. Tara’s mother didn’t want that kind of responsibility. She was well versed in herbs, from which she made tinctures, but she believed that childbirth was too serious a process to manage with herbs alone.
As a result, Faye gave in to her husband, but obstetrics became big stress for her. At first, she returned home barely alive and pale, fell exhausted on the sofa, and took a long time to come to her senses.
Gradually, however, midwifery changed Faye and became an organic part of her life. She became more self-confident, began to earn money (women paid her for her work), enjoy authority, and make independent decisions more often.
Grandma La Rue
When Faye married Jin, her parents and brother did not approve of this union. A respectable secular family living in the city did not like the religious guy from the mountain village. Even after the engagement, the brother did not lose hope of finding a more suitable groom for Faye and introduced him to every single young man, but to no avail. The girl was attracted by the freedom of the mountains, where it was not necessary to observe decency and endure the gossip of neighbors who constantly monitor each other’s lives.
Tara’s maternal grandmother, La Roux, was the daughter of a drunkard. In the Mormon community, alcoholics were treated badly, and it was difficult for a girl from such a dysfunctional family to find a good husband. Fortunately, she still met a kind young man. After the wedding, she devoted herself to creating a respectable, respected city, and “correct” family, so that her daughters would not have the same problems that she once had.
But Faye found it incredibly tiring to keep up appearances, which her mother carried to the point of absurdity. They could spend an entire Sunday morning choosing shoes in the right color just to make a good impression on the other congregants in the church.
Everything in Grandma La Rue’s house was clean and beautiful, and pastel colors dominated the interior. Tara constantly compared her house to hers, where chaos reigned and it was almost never clean. Tara’s father rarely visited his wife’s parents, and when he did come, he felt out of place. Tara felt the same way when she saw her reflection in her grandmother’s mirror – as if a neat girl, especially dressed up for a visit to the city, was not her at all, but some other person, unlike her.
Tara’s father grew up on a farm in Idaho at the foot of Peak Buck Mountain. His mother worked hard and devoted little time to her son. Most likely, this was the main reason that the matured Jin was categorically against women’s work outside the home. “A woman’s place is home,” Jean said. He made an exception only for herbal medicine and obstetrics of his wife, which he considered a charitable deed.
The Westover children called Gene’s mother “Granny Down the Mountain” to distinguish her from Grandma La Rue in the city.
Grandmother-from-under-the-mountain did not share the views of her son at all, which became more and more radical every year. One day, while reading the Bible to children, Gene saw a verse in the Old Testament: “He will eat milk and honey until he knows to reject evil and choose well.” (Isaiah 7:15) He decided that dairy products are bad (bad) food for the righteous, and honey is good (good). The very next day, he threw out all the milk, yogurts, and cheeses that were in the refrigerator and brought home almost two hundred liters of honey. Upon learning of this, his mother filled the refrigerator in her house with milk in protest. Usually, he and his grandfather drank only skim milk, but now there was milk for every taste: whole, two percent, and even chocolate. When it became unbearable for Tara to have breakfast with tasteless cereal and water every day, she quietly left the house and went to her grandmother.
Grandmother-from-under-the-mountain was annoyed by her son and daughter-in-law’s passion for non-traditional treatment. She referred to Faye’s midwifery as “playing doctor.” Every time the sun began to lecture his mother about going to the doctors and taking the usual pills, she ironically raised her eyebrows and rolled her eyes, as if to say “well, really, there is nothing more absurd and ridiculous than life itself.”
The grandmother from under the mountain wanted her grandchildren to be educated. One day, she suggested that Tara secretly leave with her and her grandfather for the winter in Arizona, where the girl could go to school. Tara did not sleep all night, mentally preparing for her departure. She imagined how her parents and brothers were worried and looking for her until they understood where and why she had actually disappeared. The fact that she left her closest people in order to go to school with teachers – servants of the devil, could not be perceived by her family as anything other than a betrayal.
Tara decided to stay at home.
The longer Faye was married to Jin, the more she adopted his views. She did not mind when her husband suggested that she give birth not in the hospital, but at home (only the first and third sons were born in the hospital). I stopped going to doctors and taking my children to them. Instead, Faye took up herbal medicine.
One day the whole family was returning home from a trip to Gene’s parents, who were wintering in Arizona. Tara’s fifteen-year-old brother Tyler fell asleep at the wheel and the family was involved in an accident. Everyone was injured, but the worst was the mother, whose face was bruised.
My father didn’t call an ambulance. For many weeks after the accident, the mother came to her senses. The tumor on her face at first increased and only then began to gradually resolve. Faye couldn’t stand daylight and lay in bed in a dark basement all day. She began to suffer from a migraine. Due to memory lapses and a sharp headache that arose at any moment, she had to leave obstetrics.
Essential oils help with the pain. Ready-made elixirs were too expensive for the Westover’s, so Faye bought oils and learned how to mix them herself. She did not have ready-made recipes, and she began to apply oils to her body, believing that the body itself would tell her whether it needed this or that ingredient. If the body swung forward, then this is what you need. If back, then you should try something else.
A new form of non-traditional treatment replaced Fay’s obstetrics, and she regained her credibility and began to earn money. Women who did not trust conventional medicine came to her and she treated them with herbs, essential oils, and chakras. Bioenergetics fascinated her, although she previously believed that it was nothing more than a placebo.
Tyler blamed himself for the accident all his life. Tara blamed no one for the accident, and certainly not Tyler. He was just a tired driving teenager who had to drive at night because of his father’s desire to get home as soon as possible.
The accident and the changes that happened to her mother after it reminded Tara of the history of women from the Apache Indian tribe. Their husbands were losing the battle with the American cavalry. They preferred mass suicide to humiliating death at the hands of the enemy, throwing themselves from the mountain. As the women mourned for them, the tears turned into stones.
The legend is silent about the further fate of women. Most likely they were enslaved or killed. Tara called it “the slaughter,” comparing it to how her family slaughtered chickens on the farm. The chickens could not defend themselves, they were too weak to fight people.
Tara believed that exactly how Apache men and women died was not just a coincidence, but was predetermined. The social position of men and women, their relationships, and everyday actions, which imperceptibly layered on top of each other, was the reason that at the decisive moment, men took care of their honor more than their women. They died like heroes and their women like slaves.
Tyler didn’t look like the rest of the Westover kids. While the older brothers fought and raged, he read books and listened to music.
He also introduced Tara to music. She came to his room, lay on the carpet for a long time, and listened to discs while he was studying.
Tyler was the first of the Westover family to go to college, despite his father’s protests. He set an example for Tara. His departure made her think about life outside the farm and the junkyard. She often imagined the lecture rooms and her brother in them.
Tyler was the most supportive of Tara when she also decided to go to school.
It is to him that her book is dedicated.
When Tara was a teenager, Sean, one of the older brothers with a penchant for violence, returned to his parents’ house. He loved his sister and was often kind to her, but his outbursts of rage were crushing. He could not accept that Tara was growing up and turning into a woman, he called her a whore, mocked and beat her.
Tired of the hard work in the junkyard and her brother’s cruelty, Tara began to daydream about studying and leaving home. Her father did not allow her to go to school, but she began to buy books and study at home on her own. Her father did his best to distract her from reading, believing that she was filling her head with nonsense. He loaded her with work even when there was nothing important. One day they were dragging buckets to the other end of the yard together to water the trees. There would be nothing surprising in this work if it were not for the fact that it was raining right at that time.
Tara was very supportive of Tyler. When his sister was too distracted by household chores, he reminded her of her desire to go to school and told her that she deserved more than working in a landfill. The brother told Tara about Brigham Young Mormon University in neighboring Utah, which admitted students who studied at home rather than at school.
When Sean suffered a serious head injury, Tara felt compelled to stay home and look after him. She decided not to go to college. But unexpectedly, the mother insisted on studying, saying that of all her children, it was Tara who should get an education. Thanks to the support of her mother and Tyler, Tara’s desire to study did not fade away, and she continued to prepare for admission.
Tara did not arrive the first time. But the points scored in the exams were enough for her to understand that she was not stupid and could try again. From the second time, Tara entered the university.
The first semester was given to Tara with great difficulty. She felt like a stranger among other students and roommates. As a child, Tara had no girlfriends, her family was isolated from other, less religious Mormons. The Westover children mostly interacted with each other. Now, at the university, Tara had nothing to talk about with other students, because their life experiences were very different. In addition, having been raised by her father, she considered most Mormon girls promiscuous because they did not dress as modestly as she did.
Tara failed her first exams. There was a lack of basic knowledge and skills. Tara did not know many elementary things. When she asked what the Holocaust was at a lecture, the lecturer thought she was joking. Tara did not even know that in order to prepare for the exams, she needed to read additional textbooks, and prepared only according to her notes.
When the girl was especially hard, she called home. Father picked up the phone. In desperation, Tara said that nothing was working for her and she wanted to return home. Suddenly, her father replied that she should not despair, that everything would still work out if she held on. And he will always support her.
Neither before that conversation nor after the father had ever approved of Tara’s aspirations to study. But the fact that he supported her when she did not expect it at all gave her the strength to continue. She retook her exams and moved on to the second semester.
During the holidays, Tara came home and helped her father. She didn’t like the hard physical work in the landfill, but she missed her family and wasn’t sure she’d done the right thing by leaving her parents’ house.
But the longer Tara studied, the more she was fascinated by the world of knowledge. Gradually, she became much more interested not in music, which her father approved of, but in “male” sciences, such as history and political science. With anxiety, she realized that she no longer shared the radical beliefs of her family and moved away from her.
Tara made progress in her studies, and the teachers noticed her efforts. One professor suggested that she apply for a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in England. Tara received a scholarship.
While Tara was at Mormon University, her father still hoped that after graduation she would return home and become a midwife like her mother. When he learned of her decision to continue her education at a secular university abroad, he was horrified. Jin was afraid that, far from home, his daughter would succumb to the devil’s temptations.
Studying at Cambridge really changed Tara a lot. Her outlook has become much more liberal. She analyzed her past life and beliefs and realized that she was unlikely to be able to return to them.
Later, Tara got the opportunity to train in America, at Harvard. Her parents came across the country to take her home. They believed that the soul of their daughter was possessed by the devil. Her father took Tara to Mormon shrines in the hope that she would return to her former self. Out of love for her parents, Tara visited these places, but she no longer felt any trembling.
By that time, the Westover’s had managed to get rich. Tragedy unexpectedly contributed to this – an explosion in a landfill that happened when Tara was still studying at Brigham Young University. My father was badly injured and could have died, but he flatly refused to go to the doctor.
Miraculously, he survived, largely thanks to the efforts of his wife. But his face and hands were permanently disfigured.
The Westover faith became even more fanatical. In the fact that Jin survived, they saw the mercy of God and the special mission of Faye called to heal people. Gene began to preach a lot, showing everyone his disfigured hands and face. His wife’s drugs became wildly popular. The Westover’s hired many people to help Faye prepare elixirs and tinctures. The business brought in more money than the Westover’s could spend.
At Harvard, her mother told Tara that now she could even heal from a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. And the father claimed that he became like the prophets – he sees angels and demons and is called to testify so that people do not go to doctors.
The father suggested to Tara that she renounce her blasphemous lifestyle, return home, reunite with her family, and never be apart again. The temptation was really great. Tara loved her parents and missed her home and the surrounding mountains. But most importantly, she did not want the family to abandon her.
At the same time, Tara knew that even if she returned, life would still not be the same. To be part of the family, she will have to pretend that she is not who she really is. Tara realized that insincerity would not bring happiness, and refused her father’s offer.
The parents left immediately.
Tara developed depression, she felt that she was losing an important part of her life – her family. At Christmas, she went home to make peace with her family. There, on a common home computer, she accidentally saw a letter sent by her mother to their mutual friend. In the letter, Faye said that her daughter was possessed by the devil and a danger to their family. This completely sobered Tara. She realized that there was no way back and her parents’ house could no longer be her home.
Tara packed her things and, hugging her parents goodbye, left.
Love in the distance
The upbringing in the family shaped Tara’s early views. She lived in a small world, limited by a fanatically religious family, a farm, a junkyard, and a village around.
Education expanded their horizons of Tara, showing her a huge and interesting world with all its contradictions. As a result, the girl abandoned her previous views on life, but this change destroyed the connection with many people she loved.
Tara now lives in England. Brothers Tyler, Tony, Richard, and their families communicate with her. Brothers Luke and Sean, Audrey’s older sister, as well as their parents, do not want to see her, believing that she is possessed by the devil. Tara continues to love them, but she had to learn to love from a distance.
10 best thoughts on one page
1. A good education not only provides scientific knowledge but also develops critical thinking. It allowed Tara Westover to take a different look at the world and question the common truths she was taught as a child.
2. Education influences a person’s values and beliefs. Tara’s worldview has changed dramatically due to new knowledge about the history, religion, and psychology of people.
3. Radicalism and fundamentalism are incompatible with high-quality education, which involves a constant search and doubt in one’s knowledge. In the process of training, Tara’s views became more and more liberal. She could no longer sincerely share her parents’ fundamental religious beliefs.
Radicalism is an uncompromising adherence to any views and concepts. Fundamentalism is a trend in religion that sharply opposes the critical revision of outdated concepts.
4. Purposefulness and perseverance will help to gain knowledge in any circumstances. Tara entered the university and even became a doctor of science, despite the fact that she never went to school and did not receive a systematic education at home.
5. Get through tough times with the support of other people. When Tara hesitated about whether to go to university, her mother unexpectedly supported her. And when Tara did not understand her own parents, she found support in the face of other people (Tyler, teachers).
6. The world is not black and white, each person has advantages and disadvantages. Tara’s father did not allow children to attend school and be treated by doctors. But he also worked hard to support his family.
7. Strange behavior of a loved one can be a sign of a mental disorder. At the university, Tara studied the symptoms of mental illness and realized that her father could be sick and not know about it, because he never went to the doctors.
8. Parents are not always right. Their love can go along with the desire to subjugate children to their will, determine their fate, and make them live by their own rules. Tara’s parents only wished well for their children, but their concept of good was very peculiar and harmed the children.
9. Separation from parents is needed in order to listen to one’s own desires and find one’s own path in life. Departure from college helped Tara gradually separate and form an independent person. Her lifestyle now is very different from that of her parents.
10. Choosing between old and new values can lead to alienation from the family. Parents formed their original worldview of Tara. But when, thanks to education, her views changed, she had to choose between close communication with her family and her new beliefs.