TU's 2023 Common Read: "Educated" by Tara Westover - Oklahoma Center for the Humanities
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TU’s 2023 Common Read: “Educated” by Tara Westover

The University of Tulsa has selected “Educated” by Tara Westover as the 2023 Common Read.  Over the summer, all incoming undergraduate students will receive a free copy of this extraordinary memoir along with a welcome letter from President Carson that includes questions, ideas, and creative prompts.  The book will figure prominently in orientation activities and then serve as a touchstone for several special campus events throughout the academic year–all designed to create a shared intellectual journey that will engage the big questions about life, curiosity, identity, and purpose that bind together our campus community.

Westover’s book describes her childhood and her studies at Brigham Young University, Harvard, and Cambridge–all without ever having attended grade school. The rigor of a university education requires students and teachers alike to take constant stock of what they know, what they don’t know, and where to look to learn more.  At the same time, it requires us to engage deeply yet respectively with people who have different histories, identities, and values than our own. “Educated” tracks one person’s experience of moving from the confines of a deeply fundamentalist family and into a larger, more complex world where she must weigh tradition against innovation and self-sufficiency against the need for community–all, as she writes, in the service of a creating “a changed person, a new self.”

“Educated” displays the value of recognizing one’s limits and then planning and implementing strategies to surpass them. The lessons Westover shares with readers resonate beyond the classroom, motivating readers not simply to acknowledge alternative perspectives, but to delight in discovering and discussing them with others. The community fostered amid these discussions represents the heart of a college education, instilling a life-long passion for learning and curiosity. Above all, the book serves as testament to the transformative power of education.

Westover’s work directly engages the theme of Movement, the topic that will shape an entire year of innovative programming at TU’s Oklahoma Center for the Humanities. In addition to the transformative power of education, her story captures education’s motive power–the way learning can dislodge misinformed beliefs and misjudgments. Moreover, Westover moves from rural Idaho to Utah; then to England, Massachusetts, and back to England. She now resides in New York. With each relocation, she moves beyond her limitations emotionally and intellectually, whether she’s distancing herself from her family’s uncompromising views of reality, or moving backwards in time, coming to better understand Mormon theology as an intellectual movement.

A best-seller and one of the most widely discussed memoirs of the last decade, “Educated” offers a reflective, accessible, and exciting opportunity to think about what it means to leave home, form a sense of self, grapple with our history, and imagine a thriving future.  It thus offers a rich introduction not simply to The University of Tulsa but to the practice of life-long learning to which we dedicate ourselves.

  • The Common Read and the First Year Experience

    College is a place to make connections, to dig deeply into a whole range of topics then try to piece it all together into a big picture that will help launch you launch a successful life and career.  The push and pull between the specialized and the general can be disorienting, and it’s easy to lose sight of the connective tissues running between people, culture, technology, and the natural world.

    The Common Read program at TU offers a piece of common ground for the entire incoming class to share.  It will be a conversation starter: the book you loved or hated, ranted about or celebrated with other students while in line for coffee. In your first days and weeks on campus, it will help form the connective tissue a college education tries to create.

    University President Brad R. Carson, who initiated this program, calls Common Read a hallmark of world-class universities: “By establishing the Common Read, a unique bond is forged among first-time students and between the new students and our outstanding professors. We are living our mission of cultivating interconnected learning experiences, exploring different cultures, and fomenting a lifelong love of learning.”

  • Why Tulsa?

    Educated depicts the intensity of Westover’s upbringing in a tight-knit, religious, anti-establishment family. Many of her experiences showcase the value of self-reliance, but they also reveal the jeopardy of “off-the-grid” living. Like Westover’s home state of Idaho, Oklahoma’s state mythology revolves around radical individualism and a live-off-the-land mentality that’s often in tension with free inquiry and community obligations. Westover reveals the profound impacts that an off-the-grid upbringing can have on one’s beliefs, behaviors, and interests. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s seminal essay “Self-Reliance” echoes throughout Westover’s work, prodding readers to think critically, both about labor and the divisions between civic communities, family, and the individual.


    While Educated explores many themes, it is primarily about the relationship between education and personal growth. Each year students come into the university looking to acquire knowledge and skills that will serve them well in their careers and lives. The university serves as a transformative space for all students, a laboratory wherein they can create, modify, and hopefully perfect an identity rooted in the past yet distinctly their own. It’s in this spirit that we find Educated especially useful for incoming students, those who have chosen TU’s intimate, liberal-arts campus as the site for living their lives and building their futures.

    Educated tracks a particularly daunting, often traumatic journey toward an empowered sense of self. Most students won’t live the life Westover did, but we hope that the book encourages them to face adversity bravely and understand their time at TU not as series of essays and exams, but as an opportunity to join a restless, curious, and supportive community of learners, explorers, and creators.

    While TU students come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and experiences, the university itself sits in a metropolitan area that is surrounded by rural communities. Our campus is a crossroads between international and local, metropolitan and rural, STEM and the liberal arts, academic rigor and a welcoming university community. Just as education for Westover means an exposure to new ideas and experiences, so too does the University of Tulsa. Our goal is not only to prepare students for careers, but also to prepare them to navigate the complicated and often beautiful elements of the human experience decades after commencement.

  • Some Questions to Consider

    One of the tensions in the narrative involves bodily health. Westover’s mother is a homeopathic healer who deliberately distances herself from modern medical practice and the family turns to her even when they suffer horrific injuries that leave permanent physical and mental scars. Her focus on bodily health introduces questions about mental and physical disability. Why do you think Westover pays so close attention to this, making it a dominant theme in the book?

    In Educated, movement coincides with Westover’s personal growth. Which aspects of Westover’s growth were dependent on moving out of the house? To college? To a distant country? To what extent does this relationship (between movement and personal growth) shape her life? How has movement shaped your own view of yourself and others?

    On PBS Newshour, Westover reflects that her education “would take to some of the most respected universities in the world, to Cambridge, to Harvard. But it would also take me away from my family. I would become a different person and that person could no longer go home.” For Westover, personal growth and learning meant a distancing from her family and thus from her home. To what extent do you think this idea applies to everyone? To what extent does change coincide with loss? What strategies does Westover employ to come to terms with the tensions between loss and change?  How do we decide what to carry forward from our past?  What do we abandon? What parts of our past are inescapable?

    Educated spent over 2 years on the NYT non-fiction bestseller list; it was nominated for and won several awards; it has sold over 8 million copies and will be translated into 45 languages. What is it about the book that makes it so popular and critically acclaimed? What is it about the narrative that is resonating with contemporary audiences?

    Narratives are often powered by the tension between protagonist and antagonist, main character and the obstacles they must overcome. In a story with several antagonists, which do you feel is Westover’s main focus? Which obstacle is most important for her to overcome over the course of the narrative: Herself? Dad? Brother? Mother? Other obstacles…?

  • About the Author: Tara Westover

    From Westover’s website–

    Tara Westover is an American historian and memoirist. Her first book, Educated, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and remained on the list, in hardcover, for more than two years. The book, a memoir of her upbringing in rural Idaho, was a finalist for a number of national awards, including the L.A. Times Book Prize, the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. To date it has been translated into more than 45 languages. The New York Times named Educated one of the 10 Best Books of 2018, and the American Booksellers Association voted Educated the Nonfiction Book of the Year. In 2019, Time Magazine named Westover one of the 100 Most Influential People. Westover holds a PhD in intellectual history from Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 2019 she was the Rosenthal Writer in Residence at Harvard University. In 2023, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Biden.

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