Welcome to today’s interview, where we have the privilege of speaking with Tara Westover, acclaimed author of the memoir “Educated.” This captivating book has garnered widespread acclaim for its powerful exploration of personal transformation and the pursuit of knowledge against all odds. Tara’s story is a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the transformative power of education.
In “Educated,” Tara fearlessly recounts her journey from a childhood in rural Idaho, where she grew up in a strict and isolated environment, to her eventual emergence into the world of academia, earning degrees from Harvard and Cambridge Universities. As one of seven siblings, Tara navigates the challenges of an upbringing marked by physical and emotional abuse, while also grappling with the limitations imposed by her family’s isolationist beliefs.
This remarkable memoir immerses readers in Tara’s quest for education, illuminating the profound impact it has on her sense of self and her relationships with those closest to her. Through her courageous storytelling, she offers us a unique perspective on the transformative power of education, challenging societal norms, and the complexities of familial bonds.
Tara’s book has resonated with readers worldwide, becoming a New York Times bestseller and receiving numerous accolades, including being named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and Time magazine. It has touched the hearts of countless individuals who have found solace, inspiration, and encouragement within its pages.
Today, we have the privilege of delving deeper into Tara’s experiences, exploring the themes and questions raised in “Educated,” as well as gaining insight into her writing process and the impact her memoir has had on her own life. Join us as we embark on this enlightening conversation with Tara Westover, a truly exceptional writer whose story continues to ignite conversations about resilience, learning, and the pursuit of truth.
Who is Tara Westover?
Tara Westover is an American memoirist and author. She was born in 1986 in rural Idaho, USA, to a family of strict religious beliefs and survivalist ideals. Due to her family’s isolation and her father’s mistrust of formal education, Westover did not attend school until she was seventeen years old. Despite these challenges, she eventually went on to earn a PhD in history from Cambridge University.
Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” published in 2018, recounts her remarkable journey from her unconventional upbringing to her pursuit of education and self-discovery. The book received widespread acclaim and became a bestseller, offering a compelling account of resilience, the power of education, and the complexities of familial relationships.
Tara Westover’s story has inspired many readers and serves as a testament to the transformative potential of education and the human spirit. Get more perspective of Tara Westover from her Ellen Show!
20 Thought-Provoking Questions with Tara Westover
1.Can you share 10 quotes from your book that you feel encapsulate its central themes and messages?
1. “You could call this selfhood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.” – Tara Westover
2. “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
3. “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.” – Tara Westover
4. “You could miss a person every day, and still be glad they’re not in your life.” – Tara Westover
5. “The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand.” – Tara Westover
6. “Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure.” – Tara Westover
7. “If an education is not improving the heart, if it is not making you a better person, then to what purpose is it being done?” – Tara Westover
8. “It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you.” – Tara Westover
9. “I had finally begun to grasp something about myself: that I wasn’t empty. I was full to the brim with something unnamed.” – Tara Westover
10. “I am not the child my father raised, but he is the father who raised her.” – Tara Westover
These quotes touch upon important themes such as self-discovery, the power of education, the struggle for personal autonomy, and the complexities of familial relationships.
2. How would you describe your journey of self-discovery and personal growth throughout the memoir?
Throughout my memoir, “Educated,” my journey of self-discovery and personal growth is marked by tremendous challenges and transformative experiences. Growing up in a secluded and abusive household, I gradually realize the limitations imposed on me by my family’s beliefs. As I venture into the world outside, I grapple with conflicting identities and wrestle with my past, seeking to understand who I truly am.
Education serves as the catalyst for my self-discovery. Through formal education, I gain access to knowledge and perspectives that empower me to question my upbringing and challenge the confines of my existence. This journey of learning not only expands my intellectual horizons but also enables me to develop critical thinking skills and cultivate resilience.
As I navigate the complexities of academia and encounter new ideas, I confront internal struggles between loyalty to my family and the pursuit of truth. Through relentless determination and a thirst for knowledge, I gradually shed the shackles of my past and forge a path towards personal growth, independence, and understanding.
3. Your memoir highlights the importance of education. What role did education play in your life, both in terms of knowledge acquisition and personal transformation?
Education played a pivotal role in my life, transforming me from a girl confined to an isolated and oppressive environment into a woman capable of navigating a limitless world of possibilities. Through education, I acquired knowledge that dismantled the walls of ignorance built around me, illuminating a path towards personal growth and freedom.
Formal education not only imparted academic knowledge but also instilled in me the power of critical thinking and curiosity. It allowed me to question the dogmas and prejudices ingrained in my upbringing, encouraging independent thought and enabling me to chart my own course in life. Education became a gateway to understanding the world and myself, giving me the tools to challenge societal norms and carve out my identity.
Moreover, education provided a platform for personal transformation. It shaped my values, expanded my empathy, and fostered resilience in the face of adversity. By immersing myself in diverse academic environments, I discovered new perspectives, bridged cultural gaps, and developed a sense of agency that empowered me to break free from the constraints imposed by my background.
4. Could you discuss the challenges you faced while pursuing education outside your isolated upbringing? How did you overcome these obstacles?
Leaving behind my isolated upbringing and pursuing education outside posed numerous challenges that tested my resolve and pushed me to my limits. Firstly, I encountered a profound knowledge gap due to my lack of formal education. Basic subjects such as math and history were unfamiliar territory, leaving me feeling inadequate compared to my peers. Overcoming this required immense dedication, as I had to self-teach and catch up on years of missed education.
Another challenge was the disapproval from my family and community. Pursuing education was seen as a betrayal of their beliefs, and I was met with hostility and ostracism. This emotional turmoil tested my loyalty and forced me to confront difficult choices.
To surmount these obstacles, I sought solace and guidance in mentors and friends who believed in my potential. Their support bolstered my confidence and gave me strength during moments of doubt. Additionally, I immersed myself in books and voraciously consumed knowledge, using it as a tool to bridge the gap between my isolated upbringing and the wider world.
Ultimately, it was my unwavering determination, coupled with the transformative power of education, that allowed me to overcome these barriers. Education became my lifeline, empowering me to forge my own path and break free from the chains of my past.
5. Your family’s beliefs and lifestyle were significantly different from mainstream society. How did this affect your perception of the world and your identity?
Growing up in a family with significantly different beliefs and lifestyle from mainstream society had a profound impact on my perception of the world and my identity. The isolation and strict adherence to our family’s ideology meant that I was shielded from outside influences and alternative perspectives. This led to a skewed understanding of reality and limited exposure to diverse ideas.
As I ventured into the wider world through education, I began to question the validity of the beliefs I had been raised with. It was a gradual process of realizing that there were multiple ways of interpreting the world and that my upbringing may have not provided me with a comprehensive understanding. This realization caused immense internal conflict and made me question my own identity. I had to reconcile the values and traditions I grew up with, with the new knowledge and experiences I gained.
Ultimately, this journey helped me develop a more nuanced perspective and a sense of agency over my own life. It allowed me to shape my own identity based on critical thinking and a broader understanding of the world.
6. The theme of family dynamics is prevalent throughout Educated. How did your relationships with your family members evolve as you pursued education, and how did it impact your sense of belonging?
Family dynamics play a central role in my memoir, Educated. As I pursued education, my relationships with family members underwent significant changes. The pursuit of knowledge and exposure to different ideologies created tensions within my family, particularly with my parents and siblings who held steadfast to our family’s beliefs.
My decision to pursue education was met with resistance, as it challenged the established power dynamics and traditions. This led to strained relationships and ultimately estrangement from some family members. The conflict arose from differing values, as education represented growth and independence while my family valued loyalty and conformity.
These changing dynamics impacted my sense of belonging profoundly. As I ventured outside the confines of my family’s worldview, I found solace and connection with individuals who shared similar aspirations and beliefs. While I yearned for acceptance from my family, I had to prioritize my own personal growth and well-being.
The evolution of these relationships highlighted the complexities of familial bonds and the sacrifices necessary to pursue personal growth. It taught me the importance of setting boundaries, standing up for myself, and finding a sense of belonging outside of my family.
7. Mental health is an underlying issue explored in your book. How did your past experiences and family’s views on mental health shape your own understanding and approach towards it?
Mental health is a significant underlying issue explored in Educated. Growing up, my family’s views on mental health were deeply influenced by our survivalist beliefs and skepticism towards conventional medicine. Mental illnesses were often dismissed or attributed to spiritual afflictions rather than recognized as genuine conditions requiring professional help.
These beliefs shaped my own understanding and approach towards mental health. I internalized the idea that seeking therapy or medication was a sign of weakness or moral failure. Consequently, I struggled to acknowledge and address my own struggles with anxiety and depression.
It was only through my educational journey and exposure to different perspectives that I began to challenge these deeply ingrained beliefs. I learned to recognize the importance of mental well-being and sought professional help to better understand and manage my own mental health.
My experiences highlighted the urgent need to destigmatize mental health issues and promote understanding and support within families and communities. By sharing my story, I hope to contribute to the ongoing dialogue surrounding mental health and encourage others to seek the help they need.
8. In Educated, you recount instances of abuse and neglect. What motivated you to share these deeply personal experiences, and what impact do you hope it has on readers?
Sharing the deeply personal experiences of abuse and neglect in my memoir, Educated, was a difficult decision, but one that I felt compelled to make. The motivation behind it stemmed from a desire to shed light on the profound impact of abuse and the power of education in breaking cycles of violence. By sharing my story, I hoped to provide solace to others who have experienced similar trauma, showing them that they are not alone and that healing is possible.
Furthermore, I wanted to raise awareness about the importance of education and its transformative potential. Through my journey, readers can witness firsthand how education became a catalyst for liberation, empowering me to question the beliefs and systems that perpetuated the mistreatment I endured. My hope is that Educated sparks conversations surrounding the long-lasting effects of abuse, the resilience of the human spirit, and the transformative power of education in overcoming adversity.
9. Your academic achievements eventually led to a departure from your family and community. How did you navigate the process of leaving behind your old life and transitioning into a new one?
Leaving my family and community was an arduous and emotionally tumultuous process. It required immense courage, self-reflection, and strength to navigate this transition. Initially, there were doubts and fears about severing ties with my roots, as familial bonds held a profound sway over me. However, my academic achievements served as a crucial catalyst for change, empowering me to recognize the toxicity in my environment and envision a different life.
During this transition, I sought support from friends, mentors, and therapists who provided guidance and reassurance. Creating distance allowed me to gain perspective, gradually untangle myself from the harmful dynamics, and redefine my identity outside the constraints imposed by my past. Engaging with new communities, pursuing further education, and embracing independence were all instrumental in forging a new path.
While the journey was challenging, it also brought freedom and growth. Navigating the process of leaving behind my old life required courage, resilience, and unwavering belief in the power of education to transform lives.
10. As you gained more exposure to the outside world, how did your perspective on religion and spirituality change, if at all?
Exposure to the outside world undeniably reshaped my perspective on religion and spirituality. Growing up, my family adhered to a strict interpretation of religion that emphasized loyalty, obedience, and isolation. As I gained exposure to different cultures, ideas, and belief systems through my education, my understanding of spirituality expanded.
Encountering diverse perspectives unraveled the binary framework I had been raised within. It made me question the absolutism of my previous beliefs and encouraged me to explore alternative ways of cultivating meaning and connection. While this process was initially disorienting and unsettling, it also opened doors to a more nuanced understanding of spirituality that encompassed tolerance, empathy, and personal growth.
Ultimately, my evolving perspective on religion and spirituality became one of curiosity and respect for different paths. Education played a crucial role in helping me construct my own spiritual identity, grounded in compassion, critical thinking, and an appreciation for the diversity of human experiences.
11. “Educated” narrates your highly unorthodox path to education. If you had to summarize the broader themes of the book in a sentence or two, what would you say?
The broader themes of “Educated” revolve around the transformative power of education and the pursuit of knowledge. It highlights the impact of family dynamics, the struggle for self-identity, and the tension between loyalty and personal growth. The book explores the consequences of living in a closed-off world with limited access to information and challenges the notion that our upbringing solely defines us. It delves into the importance of questioning ingrained beliefs, embracing change, and finding one’s own voice amidst adversity. Ultimately, it is a story about the resilience of the human spirit and the potential for individuals to break free from societal constraints through education.
12. Throughout your memoir, you touch upon the idea of rewriting one’s narrative. How did you find the strength and courage to redefine your story despite the challenges you faced?
Finding the strength and courage to redefine my story was a gradual process fueled by several factors. First, my thirst for knowledge and desire to understand the world beyond my isolated upbringing motivated me. Second, witnessing the transformative power of education in others’ lives inspired me to seek a similar transformation. But perhaps most importantly, the accumulation of experiences where my beliefs were disproven or hindered my personal growth pushed me to question and rewrite my narrative. These moments challenged my deep-seated assumptions and forced me to confront the limitations of my old worldview. It was a difficult and ongoing journey, but the realization that I had control over my own story and the courage to embrace change ultimately propelled me forward.
13. Were there any specific moments during your education and personal journey that made you question your own beliefs and reshape your values?
There were numerous pivotal moments during my education and personal journey that profoundly reshaped my beliefs and values. One such moment occurred when I met my college roommate, who introduced me to an entirely different way of thinking, challenging the narrow perspective I had grown up with. This encounter opened my eyes to alternative interpretations of history, science, and literature, provoking a deep introspection and reevaluation of my previous convictions. Another significant turning point was when I questioned the legitimacy of my family’s extreme religious beliefs after witnessing their damaging effects on individuals close to me. Additionally, as I gained access to broader sources of knowledge, my understanding of the world expanded, leading me to question and reformulate my own beliefs about gender roles, personal autonomy, and the pursuit of intellectual fulfillment. These moments of questioning and reflection were instrumental in shaping my evolving worldview.
14. Your book raises important questions about the power of knowledge and the influence it can have on an individual’s perspective. How do you see education impacting society as a whole?
Education has the potential to transform society on multiple levels. When individuals have access to education, they gain knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a broader understanding of the world. This empowers them to make informed decisions and contribute meaningfully to their communities. Education also fosters empathy and understanding, bridging gaps between diverse groups and promoting social cohesion.
Moreover, education can help break the cycle of poverty and inequality. By providing educational opportunities to marginalized individuals, we can address systemic disparities and create a more just society. Education equips people with the tools to challenge existing power structures and advocate for change. It enables individuals to pursue their passions, discover new possibilities, and unlock their full potential.
Ultimately, education is a powerful force that can shape societies by empowering individuals, fostering inclusivity, and driving progress towards a more equitable future.
15. The theme of estrangement from one’s family emerges in “Educated.” Can you discuss the emotional toll it took on you, and how you managed to find healing and closure?
The estrangement from my family was an incredibly difficult and painful experience. It challenged my sense of identity, belonging, and the foundation of love and support I had always expected from my family. The emotional toll was profound, leaving me feeling isolated, confused, and grappling with a deep sense of loss.
Finding healing and closure was a gradual and ongoing process. Therapy played a crucial role in helping me navigate the complex emotions and trauma associated with the estrangement. Through therapy, I learned to set boundaries, prioritize my well-being, and develop a healthier sense of self. Additionally, surrounding myself with a supportive network of friends and mentors provided the emotional validation and understanding I needed.
Ultimately, finding healing and closure involved accepting that some relationships may never be fully repaired. It meant embracing the idea that my worth and happiness were not tied to the approval or acceptance of my family. Instead, I focused on cultivating my own path, building healthy relationships, and nurturing my own well-being.
16. Reflecting on your experiences, what would you say to others who find themselves torn between loyalty to their family and pursuing their own dreams and aspirations?
To those torn between loyalty to family and pursuing their own dreams, I would say that it is a deeply personal and challenging decision. It is important to recognize that our dreams and aspirations matter, and we deserve to pursue them. However, it is also crucial to approach this situation with empathy and understanding.
Open and honest communication is key. Engage in thoughtful conversations with your family, expressing your desires and explaining the reasons behind your choices. Seek to understand their concerns and perspectives as well. Finding common ground can sometimes lead to a deeper understanding and acceptance of your choices.
However, it is important to prioritize your own well-being and personal growth. Remember that you have the right to define your own path and make decisions that align with your values and aspirations. Surround yourself with a support network of friends, mentors, or therapists who can provide guidance and encouragement.
Ultimately, finding a balance between loyalty to family and pursuing one’s dreams may require making difficult choices, but remember that it is your life and happiness that are at stake.
17. In writing this memoir, were there any significant realizations or insights that emerged for you personally, and did they change your perspective on certain aspects of your past?
Writing “Educated” was a deeply transformative experience for me, as it forced me to confront the complexities of my upbringing and reassess my understanding of my past. Throughout the process, I had several significant realizations and insights that profoundly changed my perspective. One realization was the power of education not only in terms of acquiring knowledge but also in shaping one’s identity and breaking free from oppressive circumstances. This made me appreciate the immense impact formal education had on my personal growth and development.
Moreover, through writing my story, I came to understand the importance of self-discovery and the courage it takes to question one’s own beliefs and values. It made me reflect on the long-lasting effects of trauma and the resilience needed to heal and move forward.
Ultimately, these realizations allowed me to find forgiveness and empathy for those who hurt me, while also empowering me to redefine my own identity beyond the limitations imposed by my past.
18. Educated has resonated with readers around the world. What kind of conversations and discussions do you hope your book sparks, particularly regarding themes of education, resilience, and self-discovery?
I am incredibly grateful that “Educated” has resonated with readers worldwide. My hope is that the book sparks conversations and discussions on various themes, such as the transformative power of education, the strength of the human spirit, and the pursuit of self-discovery.
Regarding education, I hope the book prompts critical reflections on the barriers individuals face in accessing education and inspires efforts to increase educational opportunities for all. I want readers to question societal norms and expectations that restrict educational possibilities.
Themes of resilience and self-discovery can initiate conversations about personal growth and overcoming adversity. I hope readers discuss the importance of mental health support and the significance of supportive relationships in fostering resilience.
Furthermore, “Educated” brings attention to the complexity of family dynamics and the lasting effects of childhood trauma. I hope this encourages discussions on healing, forgiveness, and breaking cycles of abuse.
Overall, my aspiration is for “Educated” to inspire readers to examine their own paths, challenge societal constraints, and foster empathy towards those on different journeys.
19. Your memoir also sheds light on the importance of empathy and understanding. How do you think your story can foster empathy among readers towards individuals who grew up in vastly different circumstances?
One of the main goals of “Educated” is to foster empathy and understanding among readers. I believe that sharing stories from vastly different circumstances can bridge divides and create connections based on our shared humanity.
My memoir offers readers a glimpse into a world that may be entirely unfamiliar to them, one characterized by extreme isolation, limited education, and unique family dynamics. By experiencing my journey, readers can develop a deeper appreciation for the diverse experiences and challenges individuals face.
Through my story, I hope readers realize that despite our different backgrounds, we all share common desires for love, acceptance, and personal growth. It highlights the universal need for empathy and understanding, regardless of our circumstances.
Moreover, my portrayal of complex family dynamics invites readers to reflect on the intricacies of their own relationships. It encourages them to approach others with more compassion, recognizing that everyone has their own struggles and traumas.
Ultimately, by fostering empathy, “Educated” aims to break down stereotypes, promote inclusivity, and encourage readers to engage with people from all walks of life with an open heart and mind.
20. Can you share a few book recommendations for our readers, either works that inspired you or ones you believe complement the themes explored in Educated?
I would like to share a few book recommendations that have either inspired me or complement the themes explored in my memoir, Educated. These books have played a significant role in shaping my understanding of the world and have encouraged me to strive for personal growth and intellectual development.
“The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank: This powerful diary captures the experiences of a young girl during the Holocaust. Like Educated, it reflects the strength of the human spirit and the importance of education as a means of liberation. Anne Frank’s story reminds us of the transformative power of knowledge and the resilience of the human soul even in the face of unimaginable challenges.
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot: This nonfiction book delves into the ethical controversies surrounding medical research and the exploitation of African American patients. It resonates with Educated as it raises questions about autonomy, informed consent, and the advancement of science at the expense of vulnerable individuals. It highlights the significance of education in understanding the broader social implications of scientific progress.
“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance: This memoir explores the author’s journey from a troubled Appalachian upbringing to his success at Yale Law School. It touches upon similar themes as Educated, including the influence of family and community, the struggle to escape generational cycles, and the transformative power of education. It offers valuable insights into the complexities of class, culture, and personal identity.
These book recommendations not only served as sources of inspiration for me but also delve into themes that resonate with the narrative presented in Educated. They provide readers with a deeper understanding of the power of education, the resilience of the human spirit, and the impact of societal factors on personal growth and self-discovery.