Educated | Tara Westover

Summary of: Educated
By: Tara Westover


Discover the incredible journey of Tara Westover in the book ‘Educated’, as she overcomes the challenges of her unconventional childhood. Born in rural Idaho, Tara never attended school nor visited a hospital due to her family’s religious and political beliefs. In this inspiring tale, you’ll explore Tara’s unyielding pursuit of knowledge and her struggles with her family’s values. You’ll follow her transformation from a young girl with no formal education to a highly educated woman who defies the odds to break free from her roots, venturing into the academic world and beyond.

A Hidden Life in Rural Idaho

Tara Westover’s childhood was spent on a secluded family farm in Idaho, where she was one of seven siblings leading an unconventional life. Due to her family’s beliefs, she skipped out on traditional schooling and medical care, instead learning valuable lessons about nature and survival from her surroundings and family. Her father Gene’s deep religious convictions and political beliefs shaped Tara’s upbringing, advocating for self-reliance and a woman’s role in the home. The choice to stay with her family when offered the opportunity to break free and pursue education created a fork in Tara’s path, making her journey even more extraordinary.

In a lush, rural corner of Idaho, young Tara Westover spent her days joyfully exploring her family’s farm. The wind caressing her hair seemed to sing a song of unity, connecting her to the towering conifers and the wild wheat that covered the hills. Tara, the youngest of seven children, would soon come to realize her upbringing was far from typical.

A key aspect setting Tara’s family apart was their aversion to formal institutions. Tara and her siblings never attended school, and she never visited a hospital or doctor’s office. Born at home, she lacked a birth certificate, making her non-existent in the eyes of the state of Idaho.

Despite her lack of formal education, Tara’s childhood taught her invaluable lessons about survival and resourcefulness. She excelled at tasks like preserving ripe peaches in summer and managing supplies in winter. Her father Gene, a staunch supporter of homeschooling, instilled in Tara a deep appreciation for the natural world, particularly Buck’s Peak, a nearby mountain.

Tara’s grandmother, however, disagreed with Gene’s education strategy and thought her grandchildren would be better off in school. Gene viewed public schools as tools for the government to manipulate children and enforce conformity. One day, Tara’s grandmother made a bold offer: Tara could join her on a trip to Arizona and attend school there. That night, Tara agonized over the decision, eventually choosing to remain with her family when the moment of departure arrived.

Gene was a deeply religious man, committed to raising his family in the Mormon faith. His beliefs extended to his view of a woman’s role, maintaining that women should stay home and care for their families. Tara’s mother, Faye, embraced these ideals, balancing her devotion to marriage and motherhood with her unlicensed work as a midwife in their community.

Tara’s extraordinary childhood faced her with life-altering decisions and ingrained in her a unique perspective on life, shaping the woman she would become.

Unconventional Path to Education

Tara’s early education was nonexistent due to her family’s neglect. Instead, she and her siblings were responsible for teaching themselves. As Tara watched her brother Tyler choose to go to college, she became more curious about higher education. Finally, she began reading religious texts, further fueling the idea of schooling.

Growing up, Tara’s experience with learning was far from typical. At the age of four, her older brother Tony taught her how to read. Her mother managed to teach the children some math and history in their early years. However, by the time Tara turned eight, formal education within their household was nonexistent.

Left to their own devices, Tara and her siblings faced the challenge of self-education. They relied on whatever resources they had at hand, learning only from what they taught themselves. Occasionally, their mother Faye would take them to the local library, where they could peruse books at their leisure.

It was Tyler, the family’s third son, who demonstrated a real dedication to learning. When he declared his intention to attend college, Tara, ten years old at that time, began to consider the idea of formal education for herself.

Gene, their father, was not pleased with Tyler’s decision. He needed all the help he could get to keep the family farm running, especially as two older sons had already left. With Tyler gone, the responsibility fell on Tara, her sister Audrey, and brothers Richard and Luke.

Moreover, Gene firmly believed that college would not teach any practical skills necessary for adult life. He dismissed academic pursuits as useless activities and feared that higher education would brainwash his children. Despite his paranoia and disapproval, Tyler went on to attend college, ultimately inspiring Tara to explore the world of higher learning on her own.

Feeling curious and determined, Tara delved into a more focused self-study routine. She began reading religious texts like the Book of Mormon and the New Testament, writing essays on themes such as faith and sacrifice. From this point, the prospect of attending school remained a constant presence in her mind, shaping her future in ways she could never have imagined while growing up in a world devoid of formal education.

Embracing Independence and Lessons

As Tara turns eleven, her family shifts focus from farming to their junkyard business, leading her to seek independence through babysitting and exploring her talents. Despite her father’s disapproval of dancing, she discovers a passion for singing and acts in a local play. Meanwhile, her father’s apocalyptic beliefs about the Y2K bug create tension within the family.

Growing up, Tara and her family faced significant changes, particularly when many of her siblings left home. This shift led her father, Gene, to transition the family business from farming to operating a junkyard, where young Tara found herself helping with scrapping cars for parts. At eleven, she was determined to become independent and sought out a job of her own. Tara ventured to the local post office and advertised her babysitting services, soon after finding herself swamped with requests and running her own small business.

However, for Tara, babysitting wasn’t purely about money. It became her gateway to the world outside her insulated family life. Through her work, Tara was introduced to dance and voice lessons, allowing her to explore her creativity and talents. This began when Mary, a mother she babysat for, invited her to join a dance class above the Papa Jay gas station. Despite her father’s disapproval of dancing, citing its immodesty, Tara continued developing her skills.

The dance lessons opened the door to another creative outlet – voice lessons. Soon, she was stunning churchgoers with her remarkable singing abilities and even landed a role in a play performed at the local Worm Creek Opera House. Tara’s family, including her father Gene, attended and watched her proudly from the front row.

However, the conclusion of the play also marked the end of Tara’s brief escape from her family’s reality. Her father’s apocalyptic fears about the turn of the century, known as the “Y2K bug,” gripped the family as the year 2000 approached. Convinced the world was on the edge of the Days of Abomination, Gene stockpiled food and weapons in a bunker he dug out in a nearby field. While this tension loomed over the family, the world continued, and the anticipated catastrophe never came to pass, leaving Tara and her family to navigate their ever-changing lives.

Resilience Amidst Family Chaos

The arrival of the year 2000 leaves Gene’s faith shaken, leading to a family trip to Arizona. However, two significant car crashes punctuate their journey, neither of which end with medical care, as the family trusts solely in spiritual healing and herbal remedies. Meanwhile, Tara repeatedly endures violent outbursts from her brother Shawn but receives no help from her parents, ultimately convincing herself that she is emotionally invulnerable.

Gene’s faith was badly shaken when the year 2000 arrived without any world-ending events. Hoping to uplift his spirits, the family visited their grandmother in Arizona. After spending some time in the sun, they began their return trip, only to encounter severe weather that led to their van spinning off the road and crashing into a field. Despite the lack of seatbelts, everyone managed to survive, though Tara briefly lost consciousness.

Although Tara couldn’t recall how help arrived and how she eventually made her way home, it was certain that her unyielding family refused any medical or hospital assistance. Following the accident, Tara struggled with persistent pain and her neck locking up, but her family only turned to spiritual healing and medicinal herbs for a cure. This was not an isolated incident, however, as the family had previously experienced a similar crash without seeking any medical attention.

In addition to these physical dangers, Tara also faced emotional and physical abuse from her violent brother, Shawn. Her parents dismissed his terrifying outbursts as insignificant, leaving Tara to develop a false sense of emotional invulnerability. By her mid-teens, Tara discovered makeup and struck up a friendship with a boy named Charles at the local theater. One night, Shawn violently dragged her from her room, accusing her of behaving promiscuously, which marked just one of many attacks from her brother. Regardless of these incidents, nothing ever changed, forcing Tara to rely only on herself and her perceived emotional resilience amidst the chaos surrounding her.

Pursuing Higher Education

At the age of sixteen, Tara struggled to envision how college could be integrated into the life path designed for her: getting married at eighteen or nineteen, having children, and learning herbal healing and midwifery. However, her brother Tyler persistently encouraged her to think about attending college. He shared that homeschooled students were often accepted at Brigham Young University (BYU), and all she had to do was excel on the ACT test.

Tara’s mathematical knowledge was limited, but with her mother’s guidance in learning algebra and subsequent practice, she slowly but surely improved. Although her first ACT attempt was met with a subpar score, she continued her studies and ultimately achieved a 28 on her second try – a score more than sufficient for BYU’s admissions criteria.

Contrary to Tyler’s and her mother’s ongoing support, Tara’s father vehemently opposed her decision to attend college, claiming divine displeasure. Despite this, her mother Faye drove Tara to BYU three days before her seventeenth birthday, ushering in a new and transformative chapter in her life.

Unfamiliar Grounds

When Tara moved to Provo, Utah for college, she faced unexpected shocks and cultural differences from her home life, amplifying her feeling of detachment from the world. She struggled academically in her first-year classes, particularly in the subject of Western civilization, but her determination to learn led her to improve by the end of the semester.

Upon arriving at her new apartment in Provo, Tara had packed minimally, bringing only a few belongings. Her first encounter with her roommate, Shannon, left her feeling overwhelmed – her attire was far from what Tara had been exposed to, which sent her reeling back to her room for solace. Her other roommate, Mary, initially seemed less shocking but quickly proved otherwise when she went shopping on the Sabbath. Witnessing this apparent disregard for the Lord’s Commandments left Tara once again seeking refuge in her room.

As she adjusted to life in Provo, Tara faced the realization of a significant divide between herself and the larger world. The city’s constant noise was a sharp contrast to her rural upbringing, and she even found herself on the wrong bus on her first attempt to get to school.

Navigating the academic world proved no easy feat, either. Enrolled in a range of introductory courses, Tara felt overwhelmed by unfamiliar terminology that left her feeling lost in a sea of new information. Western civilization proved the most challenging, culminating in an uncomfortable moment when she unknowingly revealed her lack of knowledge about the Holocaust to her classmates and teacher.

Despite initial struggles, Tara refused to let these setbacks hold her back. By semester’s end, she had forged forward and nearly achieved straight As, with Western civilization being the only exception. Through determination and persistence, Tara demonstrated her commitment to overcoming adversity and embracing new experiences.

Overcoming Fear and Stubbornness

During her semester break, Tara faced a severe earache and learned that accepting help can often lessen troubles. Initially resistant to pharmaceuticals due to her upbringing, Tara eventually took ibuprofen as recommended by an old friend and experienced relief. Yet, her distrust for medicine lingered, and it took her roommate’s persistence to get her to a clinic after a sore throat persisted. Tara’s experience with the doctor made her question her earlier fears. Simultaneously, struggles with college expenses led her to accept financial assistance from her local church. This journey of learning to trust others and embrace support transformed Tara’s perspective on accepting help.

During Tara’s semester break at home, she found herself working in the family junkyard and eventually awoke to a sharp earache. Recalling her parents’ aversion to medicine, Tara resisted her friend Charles’ advice to take ibuprofen until finally succumbing to the pain. To her surprise, the medicine worked, and the pain vanished within twenty minutes.

However, her reluctance towards professional medical help remained. When a severe sore throat struck Tara, it took her roommate’s constant urging and eventual intervention to get her to a clinic. As Tara discovered how doctors work, she became curious and began questioning her long-held fears.

At the same time, college expenses piled up, and despite juggling multiple jobs, Tara found herself in dire straits. She faced a critical dental issue that required immediate attention but could not afford it. Her involvement with the local church brought her plight to the bishop’s notice, who kindly offered financial help. Initially hesitant to accept assistance, especially from the government, Tara let the bishop’s persuasion guide her onto the right path.

Through these experiences, Tara gradually broke free from her aversion to help and slowly started to open up to new possibilities. In doing so, she continued to transform her perspective on life and the people around her.

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