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You, Monsieur L’Idiot

Your Working Boy, Paris, Fall 2012
Your Working Boy, Paris, Fall 2012

I am sorry that Ta-Nehisi Coates will be coming home from Paris soon. I have so enjoyed his dispatches from the city. Here he is talking about what his humiliations in French class this summer have taught him about education. Excerpt:

Before I came here everyone told me that the enemy was the French. It would be their rudeness, their retreat into English that would defeat me. But I am here now and it is clear that–as with attempting to learn anything–the only real enemy is me. My confidence comes and goes. I have no innate intelligence here–intelligence is overrated. What matters is toughness, a willingness to believe against what is apparent. Learning is invisible act. And what I see is disturbing. In class my brain scatters, just as it did when I was in second grade. I have to tell myself every five minutes to concentrate.

The hardest thing about learning a language is that, at its core, it is black magic. No one can tell you when, where or how you will crossover–some people will even tell you that no such crossover exists. The only answer is to put one foot in front of the other, to keep walking, to understand that the way is up. The only answer is a resource which many of us have long ago discarded. C’est à dire, faith.

As for learning a language, so too for learning anything. Right? To learn anything hard requires humility. I did not have the humility to learn trigonometry. Everything came easily to me before that class. I didn’t like math, but I made As with just a little bit of work. This trig class at Louisiana School, it kicked my butt seven ways to Sunday. I was stunned. How could it happen? I gave up. I failed the class.

I must never, ever let that happen again. How much joy it would give me to be in Paris, being humiliated by my French teachers, as TNC has experienced this summer! What a wise man, welcoming the humiliation of hard experience, in faith.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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