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Multicultural Strategies for Education and Social Change: Carriers of the Torch in the United States and South Africa

reviewed by W. James Jacob - December 07, 2006

coverTitle: Multicultural Strategies for Education and Social Change: Carriers of the Torch in the United States and South Africa
Author(s): Arnetha F. Ball
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 080774669X , Pages: 174, Year: 2006
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Arnetha F. Ball’s Multicultural Strategies for Education & Social Change is an enjoyable read that was written with the intent of demonstrating how sociocultural theory helps educators in their classrooms and researchers as they consider evaluating multicultural education courses in multiple contexts. Too often teachers prepare courses based on traditional centric perspectives limited to a single national context. Ball argues that this approach is outdated and unrepresentative of today’s educational context. Instead, Ball proposes implementing an expanded global view that includes meeting the needs of racially, ethnically, and linguistically marginalized students.

In Chapter 1, Ball advocates a postmodernist theoretical standpoint, where she encourages preservice teachers to develop their own perspectives, providing the necessary underpinnings for their future academic and professional careers. The subtitle to the book is also made clear in this introductory chapter as Ball writes that she desires teachers to become carriers of the torch—or change agents—equipped with skills crucial in understanding and meeting the needs of disadvantaged students in today’s schools. Developing a positive self-efficacy attitude is chief among preservice teacher skills in helping disadvantaged students succeed.

Ball identifies two traditional limitations that remain barriers to marginalized and disadvantaged students in the United States and South Africa: equity and access. Another discouraging limitation to meeting the increasingly diverse needs of students in the two case countries is that many of the most qualified teachers are often lured into other career paths that offer better salaries and benefits. In addition, those who enter teaching careers are often not prepared to meet the needs of a diverse student body, especially when their students’ experiences are so different from their own.

In the second chapter, Ball compares many educational similarities that exist between the two case countries along with some striking differences. For instance, Ball argues that blacks in both countries suffer from a long history of inequality and racial discrimination. Marginalized students in the United States come largely from minority ethnic backgrounds; in South Africa, the black majority is the recipient of the greatest educational discrimination. Class size is also very different in each country. Where U.S. class sizes range from 20 to 35 students, South African class sizes generally range from 40 to 60 students.

In Chapter 3, Ball shares narratives from both her South African and U.S. students, relating important characteristics of what makes an effective teacher. These characteristics include developing a positive attitude, understanding the process of teacher change, and maintaining a commitment to helping students of diverse backgrounds.

Chapter 4 is central to the book and provides the theoretical framework—the “Model of Teacher Change”—that guides her research. Change does not happen all at once among teachers; Ball argues that it follows a sequence. To begin with, teachers must first go through an internal change. Afterwards, if this change is successful, classroom change can be the final result. Drawing largely from the works of Vygotsky (1978), Wesrtsch (1991), Bakhtin (1981), and Leont’ev (1981), Ball’s study was developed around a single teacher preparation course. The course combined critical thinking with reading, writing, and multiple literacies with the focus of developing multicultural friendly classrooms. The study was conducted over an 11-year period from 1994–2005 using a seminar-like course taught by Ball to preservice teachers in South Africa and the United States. The course met once a week for 12 to 15 weeks. Three types of participating preservice teachers were identified in this study: (1) teachers who showed an initial commitment to diversity and whose commitment increased steadily throughout the duration of the course; (2) transitioning teachers who originally showed little interest towards diversity issues but who later showed great interest; and (3) preservice teachers who began and finished the course without developing a commitment to diversity issues. Ball writes that she collected over 100 individual student case studies during this 11-year time period, but she does not indicate how many students in her study are from each respective country. The book stands as an excellent source of a three-university case study on multicultural education. It cannot, however, be generalized to the case countries or elsewhere.

The next three chapters include narratives of eight student teachers Ball feels are a “representative sample” of the preservice teacher participants in her study (p. 81). These teachers provide examples of the process of change that occurs through participation in Ball’s course. In Chapter 8, Ball provides a discussion of her findings and conclusions. She shares several experiences from her follow-up interviews and observations of the eight case teachers in her study and notes how each teacher incorporated theory into their teaching and interactions with students, parents of students, administrators, and colleagues. Ball noted that each teacher demonstrated positive efficacy, more so than when they participated in her course up to three years prior to these follow-up interviews and observations. In this final chapter, Ball refutes existing literature by stating that one carefully implemented course can make a difference in changing teachers’ practice. While one course can make a difference, as Ball claims, it is impossible to assert that this one course would have the same impact in another classroom setting in the United States or South Africa, let alone another setting in another country. What if the course was taught by another instructor with a differing teaching style? What if the course had different student participants with different backgrounds and efficacy beliefs?

While the book does provide an example of how to increase preservice teachers’ literacies, it remains largely a qualitative case study analysis of a few participant students. The entire book hinges on the narratives of eight preservice teachers who were purposely selected from over 100 total participants in Ball’s multi-year, three-university study. There are no indications provided to the reader that students followed a random sample selection to participate in the study; it is assumed that all participants in Ball’s classes at the three universities are the entire population of students enrolled in her preservice teacher education course over this multi-year period. Although it is impossible to generalize the findings beyond the case students discussed throughout much of the text—with only four students from each country—the book does provide a strong qualitative narrative of eight distinct student cases. Her work also promotes a strong, theoretical framework of sociocultural theory known as the Model of Teacher Change.

Several times throughout the book, Ball calls for educational reform in the United States and South Africa. She argues that a change is needed in the way preservice teachers are trained—a change in the coursework design, expectations, and teaching. She calls for the need for further research in multicultural settings. Finally, Ball feels that both South Africa and the United States must focus on attracting both quality teachers and a sufficient number of teachers to meet the diversity needs of students.

This text is an important addition to the international multicultural and diversity literature, especially where the book offers a comparative examination of South African and U.S. education systems. The book is largely theoretical and supported with qualitative analysis. As a theoretical piece, the book has much to offer policy makers, scholars, and educators. Yet Ball’s guiding model needs more validation than is offered by the eight qualitative examples presented in the book. This limitation leaves the Model of Teacher Change in its latent form, giving other researchers and practitioners the opportunity to prove whether the framework can be extrapolated to other multicultural settings in these two countries and beyond.


Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Leont’ev, A. N. (1981). The problem of activity in psychology. In J. Wertsch (Ed.) The concept of

activity in Soviet psychology. Armonk/White Plains, NY: Sharpe.

Wertsch, J. (1991). Voices of the mind: A sociocultural approach to mediated action. Cambridge,

MA: Harvard Unviersity Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 07, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12877, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 3:53:34 AM

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About the Author
  • W. James Jacob
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    W. JAMES JACOB is the Assistant Director at the Center for International and Development Education at the University of California, Los Angeles. His primary research interests are in International and Development Education; Organizational Leadership; Project Design, Implementation, and Evaluation; HIV/AIDS Education Programs; Social Change and Development; Organizational Development; and Organizational Effectiveness.
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