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. 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 of her physical safety. Most young children do not get pieces of steel thrown at them by their father.
Her dysfunctional family environment 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. She was deliberately kept isolated.
Research of brain science shows that growing up with at least 3 ACES hinders a healthy upbringing and can cause toxic stress chemicals that impair the brain 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. Most adults with at least 3 ACES have brain impairment that can cause adult onset of addiction, depression and lifelong health implications such as heart problems, diabetes, 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. I hope Tara is happy and has now found peace.
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 and education. This fact is why alternative education such as unschooling and homeschooling is not considered an ACE by the medical or psychology community.