In Tara Westover’s piercing memoir Educated, she suggests a question: is education more about learning new things and adding new knowledge, or is it about unlearning old stories and once-certain truths? Our understanding of an education has big implications for our comfort and for our growth. If we choose to believe that an education is simply adding knowledge where there was none before, then our approach to learning will be inherently academic and de-personalized. But if we believe that an education has the potential to dispossess us of our current operating truth, our comfortable worldview, our curated identities, then we won’t be surprised when education deconstructs us.
Westover might suggest that the depth of our learning has everything to do with what we are willing to give up. She might offer that an education is equal parts staring into a mirror as it is studying books. She might remind us that it has the risk of estranging us from those we love and distancing us from the safe, destined life we’ve been conditioned to accept. Her memoir is a study of the costs of her education. To read it is to understand what’s at stake.
So when it comes to racist policies, white supremacy, the oppression of Black people, and the complex, winding history of exploitation, privilege, and justice, what will our approach be to our education? I’ve been wondering this for myself; how much self-protection stands in the way of my education? As Ibram Kendi writes in How to be an Antiracist, the root of racism is not ignorance, it is self-interest.