Tuesday, July 3, 2018

“First find out what you are capable of”

Studying at Brigham Young University, Tara Westover is trying to figure out how she “could be a woman and yet be drawn to unwomanly things” like the study of history and politics. She goes to talk to Paul Kerry, her history professor, and blurts out that she arrived at Brigham Young having never heard of the Holocaust. Her parents didn’t believe in public education. Kerry suggests that Westover stretch herself and “see what happens.” He suggests applying to a study-abroad program at Cambridge. If she’s accepted, the program may give her an idea of her ability. She thinks it over:

I walked to my apartment wondering what to make of the conversation. I’d wanted moral advice, someone to reconcile my calling as a wife and mother with the call I heard of something else. But he’d put that aside. He’d seemed to say, “First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”

Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018).
“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are”: I love that. As Westover will later write: “a life is not a thing unalterable.”

Educated is a great story about the ways in which education can open up a world beyond one’s upbringing. As Elaine suggests, the book would be excellent choice for “one book, one campus” purposes. But I doubt that many schools would dare to make Educated required reading. The book raises too many difficult questions about responsibilities to oneself and to one’s family. For Westover, there’s a price to becoming educated, and it’s not tuition and fees.

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