A quick note about the previous post. I'm getting flak from a couple of people for taking that quote out of context (more on this later). Nitin went on to ask me if I had any substantive criticism.
No, I offered no substantive criticism, because I didn't think the rest of Atanu's post deserved any. That expectations matter is a no-brainer, but a long-winded post (with the usual gratuitous lectures about George Akerlof's Nobel-winning research and Game Theory) that tries to imply that expectations are Very Very Important (if not All-Important) is to overstate the case. I mean, what about incentives that economists seem to love so much? Aren't they important, too? What about intrinsic motivation? What about institutions that could counteract the corrosive effects of low expectations? What, indeed, about ways in which people have overcome great adversities in spite of low expectations imposed on them?
Blaming expectations for the poor status of a group (particularly if the expectations come from within) is a profoundly -- and conveniently -- conservative idea; it affords us the luxury of not having to think about interventions that could help overcome the nasty effects of low expectations.
Heck, if Atanu wants to overstate his case, well, I have very little to say about it (except what I said above -- under duress!). But I can certainly highlight the quality of supporting evidence he has chosen to use. For example, if one wanted to cite some evidence for how expectations affect outcomes, one could have chosen examples of great teachers who transformed their students through a clear articulation of high expectations [Herbert Kohl is an example cited by many]. One could also cite other kinds of interventions that teach kids to change their perceptions about their own 'improvability' and lead them to perform at a higher level [see for example, the work by Carol Dweck].
Instead of references to such people or their work (there's tons of this stuff for anyone who cares to look), what we get is some boilerplate about how Jewish Americans and African Americans are predisposed to different life outcomes because they face different expectations. This 'evidence' comes to us with no ifs, buts or other qualifiers. This 'evidence' is presented to us as if the different expectations are the most important -- if not the only -- difference between these two groups.
A final comment about the accusation that I used the quote without providing any context. The context is what the link takes you to, and let me just point out that that adding that context makes Atanu's position more problematic. If African Americans are under negative expectations, and if expectations are Very Very Important (as Atanu's post claims), it leads to conclusions that are decidedly ugly -- particularly when they are not accompanied by qualifiers and disclaimers. I will just leave it at that.