Educated: A Memoir: Book Review for Teachers

published on 10 January 2024

Most educators would agree that some students face immense challenges in their personal lives.

The memoir "Educated" provides a compelling perspective on overcoming adversity through grit and determination to achieve academic success.

In this review, we will explore key insights from Tara Westover's journey that can inform best practices for empowering at-risk students.

Unpacking 'Educated: A Memoir' for Teachers

Educated is a memoir by Tara Westover detailing her unconventional upbringing in a survivalist family in rural Idaho. Westover did not receive any formal education growing up and had limited exposure to the outside world. The memoir recounts her journey to eventually earn a PhD in history from Cambridge University.

Tara Westover's Journey: From Isolation to Academia

Tara Westover grew up in a Mormon family that practiced survivalist techniques in rural Idaho. Her father distrusted public education and modern medicine. As a result, Westover did not step foot in a classroom until age 17. She began self-educating by studying for the ACT, scoring well enough to be admitted to Brigham Young University. Westover continued her education, eventually earning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study history at Cambridge University. Her memoir details her personal struggles transitioning into mainstream society after a childhood of isolation.

Exploring Key Themes in Education and Personal Growth

Key themes in Educated include:

  • The power of books and self-education
  • Overcoming adversity through perseverance
  • The transformative ability of formal education
  • Breaking free from family constraints to find one's own path
  • Learning critical thinking skills to question long-held assumptions

As an autodidact first exposed to mainstream education late in life, Westover provides unique perspectives on formal vs self-directed education and the life-changing impact schools can have.

Why 'Educated' Matters for Teaching Professionals

Educated offers important insight for teachers on the vital role schools play in expanding students' worldviews. Westover's struggles adjusting to university life underscore the need for educators to support students, especially those from unconventional backgrounds. Her story also illustrates the importance of teaching critical thinking skills to question assumptions. Finally, her perseverance through adversity demonstrates the transformative power teachers can have on students' trajectories when they provide mentorship and encouragement.

What are the negatives of the book Educated?

The memoir Educated by Tara Westover presents a raw and unflinching look at her upbringing in a survivalist Mormon family. While an incredibly compelling story, there are some difficult aspects readers should be aware of:

  • The book contains scenes depicting emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that some readers may find triggering or disturbing. Westover shares traumatic experiences from her childhood involving violence from family members.

  • There are moments of intense family dysfunction and pain. Westover exposes complex family dynamics including manipulation, gaslighting, and estrangement that can be heavy to take in as a reader.

  • Parts of the book discuss extremist religious beliefs and practices that promote controversial worldviews. This includes endorsement of controversial medical treatments over modern medicine that some readers may struggle with.

  • The graphic scenes of injury and harm described in the book can be gory and unsettling at times. There are vivid depictions of workplace and other accidents that involve blood and bodily damage.

While these heavier aspects are core to Westover's incredible journey, those who have suffered their own trauma should carefully consider if it's the right book for them at this time. For most readers though, Educated offers an eye-opening window into an unseen world that, while shocking at times, provides an ultimately inspiring story of personal growth.

What age is Educated by Tara Westover appropriate for?

Educated by Tara Westover is most appropriate for high school students in grades 11-12. The memoir covers mature themes that align with Common Core State Standards for reading informational texts at the high school level.

Here's a quick overview of why the book is well-suited for older high school students:

  • Themes of abuse and trauma. Educated details emotional, physical, and educational abuse and neglect within Westover's family. These mature themes make the book appropriate for older teenagers.

  • Complex ideas about education. Westover explores the value of formal vs self-directed education. These philosophical ideas suit advanced high school reading levels.

  • Use in AP curriculums. Educated is an acclaimed memoir that meets the criteria for AP English Literature and AP English Language curriculums.

  • Reading level. The book is written at an 11th-12th grade reading level according to educational standards.

So in summary, Educated: A Memoir is an impactful book for older high school students. The memoir encourages critical thinking about education while exposing readers to emotional themes in a responsible way.

Is Educated a memoir a good book?

Educated provides a raw and emotional memoir of Tara Westover's life growing up in a survivalist family in Idaho. As teachers, here are a few key takeaways from her story:

Tara's lack of formal education

Tara did not receive any formal schooling until she was 17 years old. Her experience highlights the value of education and the opportunities it provides. As teachers, we sometimes take for granted the privilege of learning.

The power of self-education

Despite her circumstances, Tara was determined to teach herself. She would sneak textbooks and teach herself mathematics, grammar, and science. Her grit and perseverance demonstrate the power of self-education.

Overcoming adversity

Tara endured both physical and emotional trauma from her family. Yet she found the courage to break free from her restrictive upbringing to pursue higher education. Her memoir is an inspiring story of personal growth in the face of adversity.

Overall, Educated delivers a compelling narrative that reminds teachers of the life-changing capacity of education. Tara's journey from isolation to earning a PhD conveys the empowering potential of learning. Her memoir carries valuable lessons for educators on appreciating educational access, self-determination, and the ability to transform one's life trajectory through scholarship and perseverance.

What is the main message of Educated?

Tara Westover's memoir "Educated" delivers a powerful message about the importance of questioning long-held beliefs and seeking truth through education. As someone raised in a survivalist family and denied access to formal schooling, Westover's journey of self-discovery highlights the value of an open mind.

Some key themes conveyed through her story include:

  • The transformative power of education: Westover shows how education opened her eyes to new ideas and perspectives beyond her isolated upbringing. This enabled her to think critically about her family's restrictive beliefs. Her memoir advocates for the enlightening capacity of learning.

  • Overcoming ingrained dogmas: By daring to question the doctrine she was raised with, Westover broke free from her family's control. Her memoir encourages readers to challenge assumptions hammered into them and seek their own truth.

  • Striving for independence: Through hard work and perseverance, Westover stepped out of her comfort zone to create a future defined by her own agency rather than her family's. Her triumph motivates us to take charge of our lives.

Ultimately, "Educated" compels us to broaden our worldviews through learning, conquer barriers imposed on our thinking, and take ownership of our personal growth. Westover shows firsthand how knowledge sets us free. Her memoir will resonate with anyone who has struggled against limitations, whether self-imposed or forced upon by others.


Delving Deeper: A Teacher's Guide to 'Educated'

Deconstructing Education Through Tara's Story

Tara Westover's memoir Educated provides a thought-provoking perspective on the meaning of education. As someone who did not receive formal schooling until age 17, Tara's worldview was shaped almost entirely by her survivalist family in rural Idaho. As teachers, we can use Tara's story to reflect on how a narrow definition of "education" can limit understanding. Discussing the memoir with colleagues and students can open conversations about different forms of intelligence, expanding our ideas around what constitutes a quality education.

Some questions for discussion:

  • How did Tara's unconventional upbringing shape her abilities and worldview? What core skills did she develop outside of traditional schooling?
  • Does formal education guarantee wisdom or success? What other factors shape a person's path?
  • How can we broaden definitions of "intelligence" in our classrooms? How might this impact struggling students?

Perspective and Prejudice in 'Educated'

Tara Westover's family held beliefs that starkly opposed mainstream culture and science. As Tara enters higher education, the memoir explores how difficult it is overcome one's formative worldview. This offers insights for teachers on the deep roots of personal bias and prejudice.

By examining the origins of her family's belief system, teachers can discuss:

  • How does early life experience shape core beliefs and identity?
  • What role do emotions like fear and distrust play maintaining perspectives?
  • How can education expose limiting beliefs? What is the teacher's role here?
  • How can we create learning environments that productively challenge bias?

Empathy and Support for At-Risk Students

Educated highlights the alienation Tara experienced in trying to bridge two vastly different worlds. As teachers, Tara's memoir prompts reflection on how to support disadvantaged or at-risk students in our own classrooms.

Tara's memoir can inspire discussions around:

  • What unique barriers might students from non-traditional backgrounds face? How can we identify and assist them?
  • Does our current educational system provide equal opportunities for all students to thrive? Where is there room for improvement?
  • How can teachers balance empathy for a student's situation with high expectations for their success?

By critically examining the messages in Educated, teachers can grow in understanding diverse student needs and gain insight on creating more inclusive educational environments.

Incorporating 'Educated' into the Teaching Curriculum

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover provides ample opportunities for creative and thoughtful assignments across subject areas. Here are some ideas for incorporating the book into your curriculum:

Creative Assignments Inspired by 'Educated'

  • Have students write a compare/contrast essay analyzing Westover's unconventional upbringing with their own educational experiences. What key differences and similarities emerge?

  • Assign an essay where students imagine themselves in Westover's shoes at key turning points in the memoir. How might they have chosen differently at critical junctures?

  • Ask students to write a letter from Westover's perspective to a family member, reflecting on her journey and relationship dynamics.

Aligning 'Educated' with Educational Standards

  • The memoir promotes self-reflection aligned to many English/Language Arts standards on analyzing informational texts.

  • Social Studies standards on culture, family dynamics, and education are supported through examining Westover’s unique upbringing.

  • Personal growth standards emphasizing decision-making and overcoming adversity are embodied in Westover's journey.

Facilitating Reflective Classroom Discussions on 'Educated'

  • Have students identify key decisions Westover made, analyzing her motivations and the outcomes. Ask what they would have done differently or similarly.

  • Explore how Westover’s unconventional background shaped her worldview using a fishbowl discussion format.

  • Debate whether Westover should have cut ties with her family or tried reconciling, using evidence from the text to support stances.

The memoir Educated sparks critical reflection on education systems, family relationships, personal growth, and overcoming adversity. Assignments and discussions inspired by the book align with various curriculum standards while promoting meaningful dialogue.

Conclusion: Reflecting on the Impact of 'Educated' for Educators

The Enduring Influence of Memoirs in Personal and Professional Development

Educated provides a powerful example of how memoirs can inspire personal growth and reflection. As teachers, continuously developing ourselves is key to being effective educators. Westover's journey of overcoming adversity and seeking truth even when it means going against family and community norms demonstrates the courage required for self-improvement.

Reading memoirs like Educated allows teachers to step into someone else's shoes, gaining empathy and expanding worldviews. Reflecting on Westover's unconventional upbringing compels educators to reconsider their own assumptions about intelligence, education systems, and what shapes a person's identity and direction in life.

Such memoirs motivate readers to identify areas for their own growth. For teachers, that can translate to professional development by pinpointing knowledge gaps or opportunities to enhance teaching practices.

Essential Insights for Teachers from 'Educated'

Westover’s memoir underscores the power of books and learning to transform one’s life path. As stewards of knowledge, teachers play an instrumental role in empowering students. Educated serves as a reminder to nurture curiosity and foster a love of learning.

The memoir also highlights the importance of inclusive learning environments where students feel safe to explore ideas. As Westover's horizons expanded through education, previous worldviews collapsed. Teachers must establish trust and psychological safety for students undergoing similar paradigm shifts.

Finally, Educated exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit in overcoming adversity through education. By exposing students to diverse perspectives, teachers can equip learners to challenge assumptions, think critically, and define their own journeys.

Book Club Considerations: Discussing 'Educated' Among Educators

Selecting 'Educated' for a Teacher's Book Club

'Educated' by Tara Westover provides a compelling memoir that sparks important discussions on education, personal growth, family dynamics, and overcoming adversity. As such, it serves as an impactful text for teacher book clubs aiming to engage in meaningful dialogue and reflection.

When selecting texts, teacher groups should consider books that:

  • Offer new perspectives on education and schooling
  • Highlight important social or cultural issues
  • Feature resilient individuals overcoming hardship
  • Allow for self-examination of core values and beliefs

With its raw and eye-opening narrative, 'Educated' checks all these boxes. Westover's journey from isolated homeschooling with survivalist parents to earning a PhD provides much fodder for analysis through an educational lens.

Guided Reading Prompts for 'Educated'

To fully explore the issues raised in 'Educated', reading guides with prompts can direct productive discussions:

  • What core beliefs did Westover's parents impart about education and how did those shape her worldview growing up?
  • In what ways were Westover's educational opportunities restricted early on? What access and experiences were missing?
  • How did Westover's socialization and perspective shift when entering college? What challenged her ingrained paradigms?
  • What pivotal choices did Westover make to alter the academic path her family laid out for her? Would you have done anything differently?
  • How did Westover manage culture shock while striving for academic excellence at Cambridge and Harvard? Discuss her resilience.

Fostering a Culture of Continuous Learning Through Literature

Reading impactful memoirs like 'Educated' reinforces key tenets of continuous learning critical for professional development:

  • Reflective Practice: Analyzing Westover's narrative prompts teachers to critically examine their own backgrounds, beliefs, and teaching philosophies.
  • Adaptability: Westover modeled immense personal adaptability on her educational journey, highlighting the ability to adjust paradigms.
  • Growth Mindset: Westover demonstrated perseverance and grit despite obstacles, embracing a growth vs fixed outlook.
  • Empathy Building: Understanding Westover's experiences fosters greater empathy, compassion, and respect for student diversity.

Discussion groups centered on transformative texts like 'Educated' promote the type of thoughtful self-analysis essential for educators committed to lifelong learning and improvement.

Teaching Strategies Inspired by 'Educated: A Memoir'

Adapting Teaching Methods from Autobiographical Insights

Tara Westover's memoir provides profound insights into alternative modes of education. As teachers, we can draw inspiration from her self-directed learning journey to rethink our teaching methods. For instance, we can design more independent study projects that allow students to explore subjects they feel passionate about at their own pace. We could also incorporate nature journals, hands-on learning through internships, and other experiential learning approaches she describes.

Most importantly, Westover's story reminds us of the incredible resilience and potential within each student. By creating an encouraging environment focused on growth rather than rigid metrics, we can help students tap into those inner reserves.

Building Resilience in Students: Lessons from 'Educated'

Westover poignantly conveys the self-doubt and social struggles she experienced when transitioning into mainstream academia. As teachers, we can buffer these difficulties for unconventional students like Westover.

Firstly, we can emphasize growth mindset and normalization of mistakes to build resilience. Secondly, by exposing students to diverse perspectives in a respectful manner, we can facilitate interpersonal skills development. Mentorship programs led by specialized staff provide additional support. Ultimately, a well-rounded education centered on human values has the power to uplift students regardless of background.

Critical Thinking and Autonomy: Encouraging Student Growth

Westover’s memoir highlights the link between critical thinking and autonomy. As she questioned existing paradigms, she paved her own self-directed educational path.

As teachers, we can inspire similar growth by scaffolding assignments to first build fundamental skills, then progress towards higher-order analysis through open-ended projects. Designing non-competitive assessments focused on individual progress rather than comparative ranking can also boost critical thinking. Most crucially, student-centered pedagogical approaches promote the very love of learning that Westover embodies.

When students have space to organically explore their interests, paired with a supportive teacher guiding their journey, they can attain boundless growth. Westover’s story provides enduring lessons on the transformative power of education.

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