Retro - What if...?

By Misch Pautsch Switch to German for original article

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The Lëtzebuerger Journal is already celebrating its second digital birthday. We have found our place in the media landscape, evolved and are ready for 2023. None of this would be possible without the people who tell us their experiences and perspectives. To mark the occasion, each team member looks back on a story that was particularly meaningful to them this year.

It is now almost half a year since I spent a sunny summer evening in a hall with five impressive people learning to read and write in Esch-sur-Alzette. Some of them were just months away from retirement, others had recently become parents. I didn't ask their exact ages, but they had all gained enough experience to know they didn't need to be here. Their "functional illiteracy" – an inability to read complex sentences because it was never learned, that affects about one in eight people – made life difficult for them, yes. But they were used to that. No, they were all there because they wanted to be. For their sons and daughters, for the gossiping neighbourhood. And for themselves.

A subtle yet absolutely central nuance in journalism – and in worldview in general – is the question of individual responsibility. Is poverty the result of personal failure or structural flaws in the system? Is crime a result of moral weakness? Or due to a lack of safety nets for people marginalized people? Does functional illiteracy result from laziness? "Stupidity"? Or because those affected lost track somewhere, sometime, and no one helped them get up? No single day of my life has confirmed my conviction, that every human being is the sum of individual circumstance, like this sunny summer evening.

All the interviewees told, in essence, the same story: Their start at school was marked by difficulties, both academic and social. Their families were unable to support them for various reasons. Tutoring and child psychologists were not an option. After this botched start, they never had the opportunity to catch up. Any personal motivation they might have brought to the table was extinguished by the devastating experiences.

"A subtle yet absolutely central nuance in journalism – and in worldview in general – is the question of individual responsibility."

As a person whose start at school was marked by dyslexia, these were brutal accounts. The difference between the letters "b" and "d" seemed to be an insurmountable hurdle for me, overcome only with sweat, tears and hard work – not so much my own as that of many people around me, most notably my parents, who pushed me over the starting line with great effort.

The people in front of me were my what-if scenario – like almost all people, in fact. But only rarely does this truth become as clearly graspable, as undeniably self-evident, as in this moment. Where I was picked up, by parents who had time and teachers who stood up for me, those five (out of 450 annually) were dropped. In other circumstances, we would be in each other's shoes. And today, for some over 50 years later, they are picking themselves up by their own efforts. All of their children are able to read and write or are in the process of learning it. Because their parents are neither stupid nor lazy. But because they were denied the support that we all need sometimes – and that we should receive if we need it.

© Misch Pautsch