Tara Westover Says Think Differently—about What It Means to Be Educated

Tara Westover at the 2019 MA Conference for Women

When Tara Westover first heard that Rosa Parks was arrested for taking a seat on a bus, she tried to figure out how (and why) she would physically remove a seat from a bus. That is how lacking she was in knowledge of American culture after being raised by survivalist parents who denied her a right to an education until she was old enough to apply to college herself.
The ACT was the first test she ever took, and she went on to not only earn a four-year degree but a Ph.D. (in part, she quipped, because it stops people from asking if she has a high school degree.) With this unique perspective, she wrote the The New York Times best-selling memoir, Educated.

After sharing her story in Boston, Tara shared her thoughts about the role of education today in our nation’s divide, suggesting that it has become part of our political divide. “As a mechanism of enlightenment, understanding and opportunity itself, it shouldn’t become part of that division.”

But we can change it, she added. And to do that, we should change our idea of what education is and what an educated person looks like. “We might admit it has less to do with knowledge than with empathy. An educated person is not someone who can recite an army of facts and knows a lot but who has nurtured an interest in other people and is curious to see things from another person.”

In short, she said, “to be an educated person is perhaps not to know more than another person but just to know another person.”


Read more from the December 2019 newsletter.