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  • Phyllis H. Moore

The Education Started on the Mountain

Educated by Tara Westover

Random House ©2018

I like a good autobiography and this one is especially interesting because at the time of publication, 2018, the author, Tara Westover, was only thirty-two. What could a thirty-two year old possibly write about to fill the pages of a book? She’s only lived a quarter of her life. Turns out she has a lot to say.

Ms. Westover was born in 1986 in Idaho. She lived in the shadow of Buck’s Peak, the youngest of seven children in her two parent, fanatical Mormon family. One of her earliest memories was her father obsessing, “Dad said public school was a ploy by the Government to lead children away from God.”

Instead of going to school, the children in the Westover family assisted their mother with concocting tinctures in their kitchen to peddle to locals for headaches and other ailments. Mr. Westover had a junkyard, plunking rusted cars and scrap metal next to the manicured yard of his parents at the base of the mountain. All of the children, including the youngest was expected to work in the junkyard. The list of severe injuries resulting from their father’s reckless behavior in this business is lengthy.

Tara’s father ranted obsessively about various topics, cornering friends and relatives in church, waving the bible, and insisting they give up such things as milk. At home, he insisted his children and wife listen to his rants and readings from the bible. When she was older, Tara learned her father’s behavior had a name, and he was mentally ill. She started thinking at an early age that she wanted out of their dysfunctional, enmeshed family. This was magnified when she realized she was the last vulnerable child for her older brother, Shawn, to abuse and manipulate. She watched as he did the same thing to her mother, finally realizing he was a sadistic and dangerous man, capable of hurting or killing.

At a young age Ms. Westover had the ability to recognize the dysfunction in her family:

“I had begun to understand that we had lent our voices to a discourse whose sole purpose was to dehumanize and brutalize others—because nurturing that discourse was easier, because retaining power always feels like the way forward.”

Her education began, she was self-taught, studying sample questions for the college entrance exams. By sixteen she had passed them and later qualified for an impressive scholarship, “Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege I had never allowed myself. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.”

Tara Westover was aware when she left Buck’s Peak that what she left behind was a sort of education. By the age of ten, she knew how to drive the same heavy machinery at the junkyard that her older brothers drove. She knew what herbs to use with a woman in labor and on severe burns from a welding torch. However she didn’t know how to dress, which fork to use at a formal dinner, or how to accept help from well-meaning professors. What troubled her most was that to think for herself, she must accept she would be shunned by her father. He haunted her, even as she was fascinated by the world outside of Idaho and Buck's Peak.

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas . . . was at the heart of what it means to self-create.”

This woman, Tara Westover, educated herself beyond the junkyard and midwife’s kitchen. Never calling her childhood abusive, it certainly was, physically and emotionally. She was consistently gas-lighted and brainwashed her brother, Shawn, and her father. After leaving this situation, she excelled and absorbed the libraries of Brigham Young University, Cambridge, and Harvard. Her first book, Educated is eloquent and a must read for any woman wishing to define herself and self-create. However, I was left with the feeling that Buck's Peak continues to draw her back, and she desperately craves the acceptance of her fanatical family.

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