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Essay 3: Educated What does it mean to get an education? We frequently discuss its economic value; but we say relatively little these days about what it means to emerge from our communities, our families and neighborhoods – all those forces that have shaped us – and find ourselves having to think about new perspectives, ideas, and knowledge. What do we learn from this experience? What does it cost us?
Westover’s book explores her own education. Her teachers were, amongst others, the mountain; her older brother Tyler, who introduced her to music and books; her older brother Shawn, whose abuse shaped her sense of self growing up; her parents, who love her but insist on her accepting their version of reality; her Mormon faith; then, later, her college friends and teachers; the books she read; and the events, ideas and perspectives she learned about.
For your third essay, you will discuss an idea about education emerging from Westover’s memoir (we will be creating essay questions in class). A discussion is not exactly an argument – you are not taking a controversial position and attempting to convince an opponent – but it is not a summary or a review. Rather, you are identifying an interesting idea or theme in the book, one that you connect with, and explaining this theme to the reader, illustrating it with specific evidence from concrete details of the book (quotes, scenes, dialog).
Some suggestions from class discussion (you’re welcome to address another question! but run it by me first):
1. Westover arrives at college, knowing virtually nothing about school or social life. But her unconventional family and educational background has given her some strengths, as well. Identify and discuss the most important advantages and disadvantages she derives from her background, and consider whether, on the whole, her upbringing is a benefit, or an obstacle to her success.
2. “Tara Westover is living proof that some people are flat-out, boots-always-laced-up indomitable” (USA Today). But does Westover achieve her success alone? Identify some ‘turning points’ – points in her story where she receives crucial help of any kind (pep talk, good advice, financial or other support, etc.). Discuss how these interventions help her on her journey.
3. In an interview with the Irish Times, Westover says “You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them, and you could miss someone every day and still be glad they’re not in your life.” She had to choose, she says, between loyalty to her family and loyalty to herself. What does she mean by this? Discuss how her education – both in and out of the classroom – makes it impossible for her to remain part of her family.
4. Westover says that her life is “narrated for me by others” (p. 197). Her brother Shawn, her father and mother, and even her Mormon faith, have to some extent defined her to herself – “and there’s no greater power than that” (p. 199). What are some of these definitions or expectations that are put on her? How do these affect her, and how does she get over them?
5. Westover’s education ultimately requires that she rethink just about everything she thought was true. Explore some of the moments when she learns something new about the world or about herself, or when she encounters a new perspective on familiar things, and consider: What is this experience like, overall? Is it difficult, painful, rewarding?
6.Westover is a historian, and is constantly intrigued by the question of who gets to write history. Why does this question resonate with her? How does she apply this to her own life? As she writes her own history, do you find her trustworthy? Why or why not?
7.”You have learned something. That always feels, at first, as if you had lost something.” (Major Barbara, George Bernard Shaw). How does this quote apply to Westover’s life?
Essay requirements / highlighted skills:
- 1200-1500 words
- Plenty of relevant evidence and support, drawn from Educated AND from at least one other source
- Evidence of careful reading, reflection, and analysis
- Clear thesis, organization, development, well-chosen introduction & conclusion
- Sentences should be focused, logically joined, with well-chosen modifiers and well-integrated quotes (MLA not required)