"I was just glad I'd been raised here so I wouldn't—die," she said to the crowd.
The anecdote reiterated Westover's Idaho bona fides: She was raised near the tiny town of Preston, and knows a thing or two about driving in the snow; but for years, she has been estranged from parts of her family that still subscribe to a fundamentalist form of Mormonism after she pursued college at Brigham Young University and postgraduate studies abroad.
The disconnect between Westover's high level of education and the abuse she suffered as a child have been, for many readers, the grist of her book. Speaking at The Egyptian Theatre on Feb. 13, however, she outlined her topic—"What is an education?"—in terms of the examined life.
"When I was a kid," she said, "it would have no more occurred to me to criticize my life than it would have occurred to me to criticize the sky."
Educated is the story of a life half-lived in a family closed off from the world. Her father, a scrapper, frequently exposed his family to danger and railed against the government, modern medicine and "the illuminati." Her home-schooling could be described as rudimentary at best, she only received her vaccinations as an adult, and experienced physical and psychological abuse at the hands of one of her brothers. Becoming a scholar and internationally recognized author, she said, came with a tradeoff.
"I gained a lot and I lost a lot," she said, alluding to her strained relationship with her parents and some siblings.
Much has been made of the fact that Westover hadn't heard about the Holocaust or the Civil Rights movement until she took a history class at Brigham Young University, but her takeaway from attending school wasn't a long list of missed historical and cultural milestones, but a new feeling toward the nature of history itself.
"I think most of us get our ideas about the past from other people," she said. "They choose to tell some stories and not others, emphasize some things and not others."
The history she learned from her parents was different from the one she learned in class in content and function. At home, "education" for her meant reinforcing what her father believed were feminine virtues and a woman's place in the home. At school, it was to encourage intellectual exploration.
Reflecting on the tension between her upbringing and going to school, Westover said "you don't have to believe something about yourself just because someone else believes it," adding later that her home life did give her some of the tools she felt she needed to succeed.
"I'm grateful that my parents made my education my responsibility," she said.
The Cabin's next speaker in the series, Killers of the Flower Moon author David Grann, will take the stage on Wednesday, March 13.