How Education Empowers Us to Think for Ourselves

Educated by Tara Westover is a beautiful story about the realities thrust upon us and the ones we choose for ourselves.

How Education Empowers Us to Think for Ourselves
Background Photo by Abigail Loney on Unsplash

Tara Westover's memoir has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be educated, and it's not just sitting in school.

One of the most empowering parts of becoming educated is realizing the stories we've inherited from our circumstances don't have to be the ones we live out. Education, then, is the painful and sometimes humiliating process of digesting the world around us in order to refine or even shatter our current assumptions with newfound knowledge. It's letting other ideas rip apart our own; then, stitching the pieces of our beliefs back together into a new, and hopefully better, perspective.

There's a gripping watershed moment in the book where Tara must answer her father's ultimatum: either believe in his radical doctrine or be disowned as a daughter. Understandably, she wrestles with the choice for days on end. On the one hand, she knows her dad's reality is warped, and giving in to him would be giving up on all the truths she's discovered since leaving his nest. But on the other, I can't help but sympathize with her for the psychological and emotional toll it must've taken to have to choose between her father's approval and the truths her eyes have been opened to--the knowledge that once seen, cannot be unseen.

It took courage for Tara to ultimately choose her truth, the truth, which so sharply defied her father's. Such a choice created a chasm between the two that her father's pride would never allow him to cross. In this tragic part of the story, I can see how families, friends, and communities are ripped apart by a refusal to love people who don't see the world the same way as us. It's why an unwillingness to love people we disagree with tears at the fabric of society.

Tara's story of discovering the world outside of her father's dogma is extreme, but I don't think it's entirely unique. We're all shaped by our upbringings to an extent, and at some point, all of us find out things we've been taught that weren't quite right.

Becoming educated is about learning to think for ourselves by taking our earnestly-held ideas and exposing them to the harsh light of reality. It means unlearning the wrong ways we've thought about life and constructing new schemas to fill in the gaps, which is how empathy, good sense, and humility develop. Education empowers us to choose a reality different from the one that's been handed to us, and it gives us the voice to stand by our ideas once we do.

Favorite Quotes from Educated:

"Decided. Choices, numberless as grains of sand, had layered and compressed, coalescing into sediment, then into rock, until all was set in stone."

"The seed of curiosity had been planted; it needed nothing more than time and boredom to grow."

"The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand."

"My proximity to this murdered boy could be measured in the lives of people I knew. The calculation was not made with reference to vast historical or geological shifts-the fall of civilizations, the erosion of mountains. It was measured in the wrinkling of human flesh. In the lines on my mother's face."

"It's comforting to think the defect is mine, because that means it is under my power."

"Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs."

"I began to experience the most powerful advantage of money: the ability to think of things besides money."

"I could admire the past without being silenced by it."