Category Archives: schools

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.


Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

learning to improve: how america’s schools can get better at getting better

learning-to-improveLearning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better is a book written by a group of researchers (Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu) and is the culmination, in their own words, of “learning from six years of pragmatic activity at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.” One of my supervisors gave me this book when I was put on a new project at work doing some tasks with the New York City Department of Education. Since I had never worked with or studied how central teams function within a school district and I hadn’t spent any time in New York schools, I had quite a learning curve ahead of me. (Side note to the clueless like Past Bri: central teams are basically administrators who usually work for a school district and not individual schools.)

This book helped provide me with a lot of necessary insight and served as a great introduction to understanding how districts function and the relevant language used in the field. However, the book would probably be redundant to anyone who has studied or experienced how district-level reforms impact American schools.  For a newbie like me, the best parts of this book are the pieces that felt like a deep literature review, such as the vignette that discussed the role of instructional coaches within the Los Angeles Unified School District or the concise explanation of the how the Danielson Framework evaluates educators. All of this information on how districts choose to evaluate practitioners in order to hopefully increase student learning gains was a terrific aid to me and helped me more easily navigate the terms and references related to my project at work.

While I learned quite a bit from reading this book, I could have done without all of the constant references to Networked Improvement Communities, or NICs, which is the term created by the authors for their new form of “educational [Research & Design] which joins together the discipline of improvement science with the dynamism and creative power of networks organized to solve problems.” Even though I found the frequent mention of the NICs to be monotonous, the authors’ desire to make NICs a common term is likely the reason they compiled this book in the first place. I mostly skimmed the last chapters (6 and 7) as they primarily revolved around deeper discussion of the importance of NICs and weren’t particularly relevant to me.

Overall, this book was a great read for me and my supervisor really knew what they were doing when they recommended it to me. However, I don’t think Learning to Improve is written in an accessible or interesting way for someone who doesn’t work in my field.

Publication Date: 1 March 2015 by Harvard Education Press. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Anthony S. Bryk (web), Louis M. Gomez (web), Alicia Grunow (web), and Paul G. LeMahieu (web)