January 26, 2009

There is nothing inevitable about ...

One of the phrases that impressed me most in Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey Sachs was: "There is nothing inevitable about...." Here is how he used it in the book: "There is nothing inevitable about Africa, or any other region, remaining stuck in extreme poverty." It was not long ago that large parts of Asia suffered extreme poverty too. But as we know, Asia has started a great economic climb. Why wouldn't this be possible for Africa? There is nothing inevitable about its current problems.
The phrase 'there is nothing inevitable about' could be applied to many other things too. For instant to the topic I wrote about yesterday: the test performance gap between different ethnic groups. It is a well known fact that -on average- Afro Americans score lower than other groups in tests for intellectual ability. But there is nothing inevitable about this. Here are two arguments for this assertion. One is the Flynn effect, which says that average IQ test scores over generations can rise drastically. Certain ethnic groups have managed to close performance gaps within a few generations. Now there is reason to believe that Afro Americans have begun to do that too. William T. Dickens and James R. Flynn have observed that Afro Americans have gained 5 or 6 IQ points on non-Hispanic whites between 1972 and 2002. A second reason to believe that these performance gaps are bridgeable lies in the promising research on stereotype threat.
'There is nothing inevitable about ..' is a beautiful phrase that invites to look hopefully at situations and to take steps to make improvements. It fits with the growth mindset idea. You can look at problems with a fixed mindset (we'll never be able to solve this problem) or a growth mindset (there is nothing inevitable about this situation, it is solvable).
What else could you apply this way of thinking to?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner