College Dropout

I'm taking an hour a week day to try to teach myself French. Kenyatta went to Paris five years ago and loved it. She wants me to go back with her, and I want to go. But I refuse to do so until I have a rudimentary understanding of the language. This isn't about impressing the French -- I expect my accent to mocked -- it's about how I interpret the world. Language is a big part of it.


Anyway, I'm using FSI. Please don't tell me why I'm doing it wrong. I've found on the autodidact's path, it's much more important to "keep going" than to "be right." Anyway, I took French in my first semester of college. I got an F, and my long descent out of the ranks of the University was on. But there moments like this evening, when I find myself repeatedly writing out "A bientot J'espere" or wondering how you pronounce "Tienes" and am totally struck by what I missed.

I don't regret leaving. I badly wanted to write, and I wasn't doing much writing -- not the kind I wanted -- in college. But I'm always amazed at how much basic shit I missed -- the sort of stuff that people who go around calling themselves "public intellectuals" should know. I understand that there are many fakers out there. But if you're not much interested in faking, that's small comfort.

Perhaps part of the problem is that phrase -- "public intellectual." It means "public teacher" whereas maybe there should be some consideration of adding "public student" to that designation. After all, it was the "public" that sent me to FSI to begin with. 

I would call myself a "public student" but there something presumptuous and faux-modest. Kinda like when Huey Newton dubbed himself "The Supreme Servant of the People" 
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile his neighbor, the patriarch of a 70-acre family farm

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in National

From This Author

Just In