Frank Laubach and Ruth Colvin: The Global Reach of Local Literacy Sponsors

Reference work entry


Two of the world’s largest and best-known adult literacy organizations, Laubach Literacy International (LLI) and Literacy Volunteers of America (LVA), were founded in Syracuse, New York. The founders, Frank Laubach and Ruth Colvin, shared a common Christian mission and optimism about the power of voluntarism and literacy, and they each designed a program that has at its center a one-to-one tutoring model in which literate tutors share literacy practices with new-literate adults. Despite their similarities, these literacy programs are radically different in method, aim, and scope. Where LLI offered a discrete curriculum aimed at rapid but tightly constrained literacy learning, LVA offered limited curriculum but expansive strategies for helping tutors and learners realize goals for engaging with everyday literacy materials. Using concepts from the New Literacy Studies along with materials on the early histories of LLI and LVA, this chapter explores the “limits of the local” (Brandt and Clinton, J Lit Res 34:337–356, 2002), examining how these two volunteer-based literacy programs not only facilitated the spread of literacy learning around the world but also exported into new settings two visions of literacy and society that coexisted uncomfortably in mid-twentieth-century America. These visions were exported – part and parcel with literacy practices – from Syracuse to sites of USA and international literacy learning.


Adult literacy Laubach Literacy Literacy Volunteers of America Literacy sponsors New Literacy Studies ProLiteracy 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Puget SoundTacomaUSA

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