As the author of “Unschooling To University,” I read “Educated” with interest and know that the author, Tara Westover, is very much like many other unschoolers who ditch the school system and learn outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of children get educated this way in a self-directed methodology without using curriculum, teachers, classes or textbooks. Many are self-taught using the resources they seek out or stumble over. Unschooled, educated children go on to successful careers after graduating post-secondary programs or become entrepreneurs. Learners do not need school.
Tara, however, was different than many unschoolers in that she was a victim of at least 5 ACES, (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and was the daughter of a man suffering from mental illness that severely impacted the health of the family system. She was physically abused by her brother, witnessed untreated mental illness, and was neglected by a mother that allowed emotional and physical abuse to continue. She was criticized and rejected by her family and community for leaving the church. Her unusual lack of access to information would also be considered neglect as well as her lack of family protection for her physical safety. Most young children do not get pieces of steel thrown at them by their father.
Her dysfunctional family environment intentionally impacted her access to knowledge. She grew up without books, radio, TV, internet, visitors, travel or the myriad of experiences that typical parents offer their children today whether homeschooling, unschooling or institutional schooling. She was deliberately kept isolated.
Research of brain science shows that children growing up with at least 3 ACES hinders a healthy upbringing and can cause toxic stress chemicals such as Cortisol and long term production of adrenelyn that can impair the brain’s healthy development and may produce lifelong health implications. The 10 ACES are: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, witnessing abuse, witnessing untreated mental illness, witnessing addiction, parental absence, acrimonious parental separation or divorce, constant criticism or rejection, and neglect of food, shelter and basic needs. Adults who grew up with at least 3 ACES may have brain impairment that can cause adult onset of addictions, depression and lifelong health implications such as heart problems, diabetes, anxiety and many auto-immune diseases. Tara managed to steer through the residual effects of living with ACES, with the help of her personality and spirited temperament. Some of Tara’s siblings, with different personalities, and temperament, didn’t fare as well.
This book is a shining example of resilience in spite of one’s horrific upbringing but is not an example of typical home education. Most unschoolers and homeschoolers (whether faith-based or not) have healthy functional families and do a remarkable job providing their children with access to information, love, safety and education. This fact is why alternative education methods such as unschooling and homeschooling have not ever, nor will be considered an ACE by the medical or psychology community.
I hope Tara is happy and has now found peace.
To understand more about brain development and the stages of learning, visit part 4 of Unschooling To University, available at many bookstores near you. Chapter 16, Brain Basics, has information of the effect of ACES on learning and development.