What does it mean to get an education? We talk a lot about how a college degree can help us make more money; but these days, we don’t say much about the culture shock that many of us will experience. Going to college means emerging from our home communities, from the familiar values and habits we’ve grown up with, and dealing with new and different everything – values, ideas, perspectives. What does this do for us? 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.   

Question: Pick ONE of the options below:

  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 to what extent it has benefitted her, and/or held her back.
  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 of the important ‘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’s memoir is personal, but it’s also a meditation on history. Historians must base everything in tangible evidence, but still acknowledge that they may misinterpret or misunderstand that evidence. They must strive for objectivity, but know that they are limited by their own perspectives. They must tell the truth, but acknowledge that it can never be the whole truth.  Historians, in short, can gain confidence only when they allow themselves to admit uncertainty. “Dad could be wrong, and the great historians Carlyle and Macaulay and Trevelyan could be wrong, but from the ashes of their dispute I could construct a world to live in. In knowing that the ground was not ground at all, I hoped I could stand on it.” (ch. 29) How do you see these concerns emerging in her memoir? 
  5. “You have learned something. That always feels, at first, as if you had lost something.” This quote, from Major Barbara (by George Bernard Shaw, highlights something that Educated also makes plain: gaining an education means, at first, losing something – perhaps a tribe, a rock-solid belief, a set of certainties. But it also ultimately leads to something better. Discuss what you feel Tara Westover loses by her education, and what she gains. 
  6. Westover describes a number of moments when something she reads, hears or sees hits her and changes her thinking. John Mill’s observation that women constitute a subject on which “nothing can be known;” her friend’s comment that he wouldn’t want to be a lawyer if he were a woman; bipolar disorder, Ruby Ridge, the Holocaust, civil rights – these and many others mark moments when Tara’s thinking shifts and changes. Pick four or five of the most significant moments of discovery, and explain what made these moments so important.

Applying what you’ve worked on:

Composition skills – 

  • Thesis: The paper should focus on a single, clear thesis that the rest of the paper explains.
  • Organization: The explanation should be presented in the form of clear, separate points, each of which is stated in clear topic sentences that scaffold the body of the paper. 
  • Development: Paragraphs should make one point each, begin with clear topic sentences that sum up the paragraph, and be filled with examples, analysis and direct quotes from the book that support the topic sentence.
  • Summary: Where necessary, you should be able to briefly summarize parts of the book (not the whole book!) or relevant points of view.
  • Introductions & conclusions: The paper should be framed by a carefully chosen introduction & conclusion.

Sentence skills –

  • Sentence focus: Sentences should be well-focused. Look out for the specific features outlined in the exercise (“there is,” passives, weak verbs, etc.) 
  • Joining words: Sentences should be intentionally joined, where it makes sense, with coordinators, subordinators and/or transitional expressions, which should be correctly punctuated. 
  • Concessives. Sentences should use concessives to clarify and prioritize ideas, when presenting conflicting opinions.
  • Integrating quotes. You should include some direct quotes from contributors to the debate, effectively integrated into your own sentences.
  • Verbals & appositives: Sentences should make use of verbal and appositive phrases to get more information across effectively. (Appositives are especially useful for quote attribution.) 
  • Proofreading: The paper should be carefully proofread. 

Process requirements – before you submit

  • Essay 3 drafting board


  • at least 1200 words
  • MLA citation format

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