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Aspen Ideas Festival: Tara Westover's memoir 'Educated'

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Tara Westover, essayist and historian, talks about her memoir
Tara Westover, essayist and historian, talks about her memoir "Educated" at the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Ian Wagreich | The Aspen Institute

Tara Westover grew up in isolated rural Idaho with radical survivalist Mormon parents. Her childhood and her journey into adulthood became the best-selling memoir, "Educated." 

Her parents were opposed to public education — and anything connected with the government — so she didn't attend school until she was 17. But as a girl she discovered singing and music, which she says led her to realize there are a lot of other things in the world to discover, through education.  She now has a PhD in history.

Westover told the Aspen Ideas Festival audience that the experience, process and goal of education is supposed to be the same.

"Sometimes," she said, "we forget that education is also meant to be about life and the way that you live your life. It's meant to fit people to live a richer and fuller life. That's really what it ought to do, and making people employable is a wonderful side effect of that." 

"I taught myself algebra because as a child I liked to sing... I think we should probably be a little bit cautious or reflective before we kill any passion that appears in a child. Because I think passion, really it is just a love of hard work and it's pretty rare and it's hard to create."

"You don't necessarily know where a love of something will take you, but you know that if you don't have any love for things, you'll go nowhere." 

She points to those who provided support to her, and said "you can't climb out without a ladder. Sometimes help came from unusual places."

Commenting on societal and political conditions in America today, Westover said "it's an unfortunate tendency, I think, to see people almost entirely through this prism of ideology and think that if we know one thing about a person that we know everything about them." 

"The biggest political, social problem that we have is that people no longer feel that people on the other side are part of the same tribe." The ability to persuade, Westover says, can only happen if we care about others and understand their point of view. 

Education should give you "flexibility of mind," Westover adds. Education should change you. "But we need to take the condescension out of it. If we allow contempt into it, we've allowed it to putrify into arrogance." 

The audience asked Tara Westover to sing, and she concluded the event by singing a favorite Mormon hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

Tara Westover was interviewed June 25, 2019 at the Aspen Ideas Festival by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.