Core Question 5: Tara’s Practice of Assessing Physical, Relational, Intellectual, and Emotional Risk

Can you think of a moment in your own life, work, or family when a positive development or risk also came with a challenging consequence? Do you believe that all choices will produce a win-lose outcome or do you believe that all choices have the potential for a win-win outcome?

From the opening chapter, Westover reveals an internal assessment of risk as she chooses between following her dad’s revelatory milk prohibition and her grandma’s encouragement of dairy products when she writes, “Breakfast became a test of loyalty.” When working in her dad’s scrapyard or responding to her siblings’ medical emergencies, Westover assesses physical risk even as a child. As her worldview expands through studying and relationships outside her family, she weighs the risks of entering into intellectual conflict with her family. It is clear that every choice could potentially produce both a positive gain and a devastating consequence.

Which risks seemed to have the greatest impact on the trajectory of her life? In what ways did Westover’s choices both produce positive gains and distressing losses? How do you think this practice of constantly assessing risk affected her psyche? Which turning point moment stood out to you the most in Educated?

It is all relative. She is managed by her fathers desires. She lives with it, but finds a way around at grandmas. There is always a win with all negative, you just need to figure out what it is. This is not always possible for many of us.

Every decision we contemplate will have positives and negatives. It is natural for us to weigh them. Some think more about how others will be affected by our decisions then others. I also believe we can spin it anyway we want when we look back on a decision.


I think that Westover’s risk management is much better than her father’s. She seems to be surviving her father instead of surviving the end of the world. In fact, I think much of Westover’s trauma could come from the fact that her father cannot manage risk. He is worried about the wrong things while simultaneously being incredibly negligent of his family’s physical safety and well-being.

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*“I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference” - Robert Frost

Choices - the one key ingredient most of us desire.
Some may rely on “choice fee” living (like Tara’s parents in relationship to their children) but most of us reject this philosophy believing it is our destiny to “go our own way”. And in plotting our own destiny, and choosing our own path - we have the privilege of using tools to travel along the paths of life.

We have vision, hearing, our sense of touch, our sense of smell, our sense of taste, and our heart.
We have our education and our experiences.
We have our mathematical equation of risk versus reward.
We have a mirror, . . . and today, we have a GPS.

So what is the difference between a GPS and a mirror? Both can tell you where you are -
But one can tell you where you’ve been -
while the other can tell you how to get where you want to go.

Now choose! Where do you want to go? (Risk versus Reward)

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The first thing that comes to my mind throughout Tara’s memoir is Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance, “You got to where you are in your life right now by moving along the path of least resistance.” Tara throughout is processing risk vs reward, her early attention to detail helped her navigate the Path of least resistance, learning that something just didn’t seem to be normal. Overtime, she ended up rewarding herself and ridding herself of torment and anguish. Unfortunately, that reward, deep down has still left her wanting that relationship with her parents.

I interpreted that once Tara went off to college and started to see the world with different lenses she produced a positive gain; however, the distressing loss is that of her family. She is very clear she doesn’t want to anger God; so, to stand up against her father was difficult. She repeats many times she never questions that her parents love her. She struggles with the negative vs positive. She loves her family and struggles with the negative experiences with her abusive brother and her father’s strong belief against education, healthcare and government.

The turning point that stood out to me was the last time she wrote about reaching out to her Mother wanting to see her but her mother stood by her principles of standing by her husband and she would not meet without her husband! That turning point was clearly difficult for Tara, rustling with not having one without the other. Tough turning point.

Some how or other, it seems Tara developed critical thinking skills early on in her life. When an experience comes to her that has different edges than her insular family dynamics, she recognizes and internally makes comparisons. I think being able to interact with both parents" parents is a Godsend for her. Having them as her grandparents she was privy to the private comments made only to other family members, was astute enough to pick up on them, and store them away until she could make them parts of her eventual “evaluative tool box”.