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In education, you can choose to remake yourself — or be made by others

Because Tara Westover had never been allowed to go to school, the only history she had learned was the history her father taught her. "His perspective was my perspective," she says, and his fears became her fears. But when she discovered education -- different from school -- she began to construct her own mind from a diversity of ideas. Westover shares her humble opinion on remaking yourself.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    It’s graduation season, and the memoir “Educated” is the may pick for the “NewsHour” Book Club, in collaboration with The New York Times, Now Read This.

    Its author, Tara Westover, had no formal education until she attended college. The unlikely path that led her there was entirely self-made.

    Tonight, she shares her Humble Opinion on how an education has very little to do with the schools you attend.

  • Tara Westover:

    During my first semester of college, I raised my hand in a class and asked the professor to define a word I didn’t know.

    The word was holocaust, and I had to ask, because, until that moment, I had never heard of it.

    I had been raised in the mountains of Idaho by a father who distrusted many of the institutions that people take for granted — public education, doctors and hospitals, and the government.

    The result was, I was never put in school to taken 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, I just didn’t exist.

    My older brother bought textbooks and was able to teach himself enough to go to college. When I was 16, he returned and told me to do the same thing.

    I taught myself algebra and a little grammar, and somehow I scraped a high enough score on the ACT to be admitted to Brigham Young University, even though I had no formal education.

    That is how I came to be in that lecture hall, asking aloud, what is a holocaust?

    Because I had never been allowed to go to school, the only history I had learned was the history my father taught me. His perspective was my perspective. He said pharmaceuticals would permanently damage my body, so I had never taken so much as a Tylenol.

    He said the government had been corrupted by the illuminati, so I said that, too.

    His ideas had become my ideas. His fears had become my fears also.

    Once I discovered education, I studied for 10 years. I sought out as many ideas and perspectives as I could find, and I used that body of knowledge to try to construct my own mind.

    This pursuit would take me to some of the most respected universities in the world, to Cambridge, to Harvard. But it would also take me away from my family. I would become a different person, and that person could no longer go home.

    What I would come to understand from this journey is that an education is not the same thing as a school. A school is merely the institution through which an education is offered. An education is something you take for yourself. It’s a process of becoming.

    That is the power of it, and that is the danger of it. For some, the word educated has come to mean institutionalized, but it doesn’t have to mean that. An education is the remaking of a person. You can submit to that remaking passively, or you can take an active part.

    To choose the second is to remake yourself. To choose the first is to be made by others.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    To hear more from Westover, you can join our book club through our Facebook group, Now Read This.

    And right now, online, Westover shares insight into how she writes, what she reads and why — quote — “Inspiration is a myth.”

    That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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