"Las for Mej, Pappa" a Swedish Model for Addressing Family Literacy
Wright, Audrey E., Bouchard, Margaret, Bosdotter, Kjersti, Granberg, Ralph, Childhood Education
A literacy-based project for fathers called "LAS for Mej, Pappa" ("Read to Me, Daddy"), initiated by IF Metall and three other national unions in Sweden in 1999, reaches working fathers at local union halls, housed in the fathers' places of employment. "LAS for Mej, Pappa" reflects a commitment to family literacy on the part of the Swedish society. Unfortunately, many other countries, including the United States, relegate the responsibility for literacy to its education systems rather than viewing literacy as everyone's responsibility. The result, according to a United Nations survey of worldwide adult literacy of the 158 participating nations, is that the United States ranks 49th, while Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, rank 7th.
Social constructivists believe that literacy is constructed across the larger learning environment, encompassing school, home, and community; thus, literacy must be considered everyone's responsibility, not just the schools'. Further, attention must be paid to family literacy long before the onset of formal education. Sweden appears to embrace this precept.
The critical role of parent involvement in children's literacy acquisition is well supported by a wide body of research (Fan & Chen, 2001; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Primavera, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). Literacy generally is considered the purview of mothers, since they often are believed to be naturally better readers than males. Unfortunately, some societies reinforce this perception. Children in these societies seldom see their fathers reading, even for their own enjoyment. Yet recent research on the significance of fathers in their child's education substantiates the importance of fathers' interest and participation in their children's literacy development (Fagan, 2007; Flouri & Buchanan, 2004; Karther, 2002; Lloyd, 1999; Ortiz & Ordonez-Jasis, 2005; Pleck & Masciadrelli, 2004).
The "LAS for Mej, Pappa" project can serve as an excellent model for making literacy development everyone's business. IF Metall, with about 440,000 members, decided that, far too often, men in the local unions were not reading and thus were not improving either their own literacy or that of their children. To address this situation, they implemented the program described here.
Sweden has long acknowledged the importance of a literate society. Martin Luther, who stressed that everyone should be able to read the Bible, had great influence in Sweden. A few stories demonstrate the importance of reading in the church in Sweden. A woman who had tried for years to learn how to read without success worried that she would not be buried in the church cemetery. Because she had been a very good Christian, the church made an exception in her case. Another story, set in the early 1700s, revolves around the house hearings held by the church, and a 16-year-old girl who could not read. The bishop was furious that the girl could not read, since this would mean she could not get to Paradise, and demanded an explanation from her father. The father explained that his daughter was mentally retarded. The bishop then called for the local minister and ordered him to teach the girl to read and report the results directly to him. These stories are well-known in Sweden, and point out the important role played by the church in the spread of literacy.
By 1895, 99.9% of the adult population in Sweden could read. "By all international standards, Sweden was, at the turn of the century, a country with a very well developed human capital base" (de Vylder, 1996, p. 11). Today, Sweden scores in the top 5% worldwide in terms of literacy. A strong inter-linkage has existed since the 19th century between economic growth, institutions, and social capital. In particular, "Human skills have emerged as perhaps the most important factor of production," especially literacy (de Vylder, 1996, p. …