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‘Educated’ author Tara Westover answers your questions

Tara Westover, author of our May pick for the NewsHour-New York Times book club Now Read This, joins Jeffrey Brown to answer questions from readers, plus Jeff announces June’s book.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to our monthly segment Now Read This. That’s our special book club in partnership with The New York Times that many of you have joined.

    Jeffrey Brown talks with this month’s author and announces our pick for June.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A 17-year-old steps into a classroom, not unusual, unless it’s her first time receiving any kind of formal education.

    In the memoir “Educated,” Tara Westover tells of growing up in a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho and eventually leaving to enter the world on her own, ultimately receiving a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University in the U.K.

    Tara Westover joins me now to answer questions from readers.

    And, first, congratulations on his book. Thank you for joining us in the book club.

  • Tara Westover:

    Thanks for having me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Let’s go right to the readers’ questions. There were a lot of them.

    We will start with one right now.

  • Wynn Wagenseil:

     My name is Wynn Wagenseil. I’m from Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

    My question is, how did your world view change so much from your parents’?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, so fill in the picture for those who are not familiar with the book, but your World view certainly changed over time, right?

  • Tara Westover:

    Yes.

    So, I was born and raised the youngest of seven children on this really beautiful mountain in Southern Idaho. But my dad had some radical beliefs. And because of those beliefs, we were isolated. So I was never allowed to go to school or to the doctor. I didn’t even have a birth certificate until I was 9 years old, which meant that, according to the state of Idaho and the federal government, I just didn’t exist.

    So when I was 16, I decided to try to educate myself. And I bought a algebra book and just taught myself enough algebra to kind of sort of pass the ACT, and I went to university.

    And what I didn’t know at that time was I was starting out on this path, this path of education, that would require a lot of my ideas to change, that would require my world view to change.

    And that path of education would take me to these great places, Harvard, Cambridge. But it would also take me away from my family. And what do you when the obligations that you owe your family are somehow in conflict with what you owe to yourself?

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, in fact, the answer to that woman’s question is the book itself, I think, if you think about the process of what you were writing about.

  • Tara Westover:

    Yes. There were so many world views I had that changed.

    But I think the biggest change is just, when I was a child, because I didn’t go to school, I didn’t have access to different points of view, different histories. I had never heard of the Holocaust. I had never heard of the civil rights movement.

    There were — and I thought Europe was a country, not a continent. There are so many things I didn’t know. And then when you get access to different perspectives, you get that skill that I think is the most important, which is to be around people who think one thing, and for you to think something else.

    And that’s something I never had before.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, let’s go to the next questions.

    I think we have two paired together here about what you learned in Idaho.

  • Gloria Lee:

     Hi. I’m Gloria Lee from Sunnyvale, California.

    My question for Tara is whether she has found herself acting like her father in exactly the way she despised about him, or if there are any life philosophies she has learned from him that she’s still treasures and lives by today.

  • Luke Bailey:

     I’m Luke Bailey from Boulder Creek, California.

    What values or traits, if any, do you feel grateful for that you learned on Buck Peak?

  • Tara Westover:

    I think that answer to that, you know, my parents had this philosophy about learning, this kind of idea of education that was very much about individual responsibility.

    And I think that, in some ways, they took it a bit far. But I am grateful for it. My dad would always say that you can teach yourself anything, better than someone else can teach it to you.

    And I think you can take that as being disparaging of teachers, but I don’t think you have to. I think that the bigger point is, you could have a Nobel laureate in literature trying to teach you how to write, but if you didn’t want to learn, I don’t think you would learn as much as if you wanted to learn and just had a novel that was good that you wanted to learn from.

    So, I think — I think sometimes our ideas about education have become very institutionalized and maybe a bit passive. And we have started to forget that an education isn’t the same thing as a school. And I really do believe that there’s really nothing that can make up for the absence of individual buy-in, of really wanting to learn something.

    And that’s something I’m grateful to my parents for.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A lot of people are interested in — one of the themes of the book is how off the grid you were. There was a kind of keeping away from government, right?

    So there is violence, but nobody gets taken to the hospital. These are real issues of how you interacted or didn’t interact.

    So we have a couple — we have a question now that goes to that, I think.

  • Molly Gartland:

    Hi. My name’s Molly Gartland. And I live in London, England.

    I have two questions for Tara.

    The book cites many incidents of child abuse. And I wonder if she thinks that the state should have intervened in her case.

    Also, does she think that the state needs to be more involved with checking the quality and the veracity of homeschooling?

  • Tara Westover:

    That’s such a difficult question.

    With my own family, we were pretty isolated, as I said. So it’s hard for me to see how people would have even really known what was going on. And with my family, I did confront my parents about the violence with my brother.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Right.

  • Tara Westover:

    And they chose not to believe me. They chose to say I was lying.

    And it’s hard to say how the state can get involved when parents themselves are kind of a part of keeping it quiet.

    As with a lot of things, it’s good to look inward and think about the people that we know that we are inadvertently maybe hurting by being silent.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, we’re going to continue and have more of our conversation on our Now Read This Facebook page.

    But, first, let me introduce our Book Club pick for June.

    It’s titled “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer. It won the Pulitzer Prize this year for fiction. It’s a comic novel about a failed writer who travels the world to avoid a wedding.

    Please do continue to read along with us in Now Read This, a partnership with The New York Times.

    And, Tara Westover, for now, thank you very much.

  • Tara Westover:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as Jeff said, you can join the conversation on our Now Read This Facebook page.

    There, you can also hear about the influence music had on Tara Westover and you can watch her sing a Mormon hymn. It’s worth paying attention to.

Listen to this Segment

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