This blog was written after reading Abigail’s thought provoking blog on “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (TPS)
TPS is the behavioral tendency to knock down those who are ‘superior’ to you (Yang & Terjesen, 2007). As Abigail notes, in a school environment this may result in intelligent/gifted/high achieving children being bullied.
The “cutting down of tall poppies”, and scrutinizing high achievers is synonymous with Australian (Peeters, 2004) and New Zealand culture (Kirkwood, 2007). It is also ubiquitous in Scandinavian cultures, where it is referred to as the “Law of Jante” (Danish and Norwegian: Janteloven; Swedish: Jantelagen; Finnish: Janten laki; Faroese: Jantulógin)
The law consists of ten rules who’s broad message is: “Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.”
Most people in our culture would intuitively see this as a very negative thing, small minded, envious, and petty. How can true individual freedom exist under such a law?
And yet, in a list of the happiest countries in the world compiled by Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University Rotterdam, Sweden (7), Australia (6), Finland (5) and Denmark (1) all make the top 10.
So how can countries so scornful of individual success be so collectively happy and successful?
Inherent in the law of Jante is that the needs of the individual are less important than the needs of the collective whole. In all of the countries named above, most public services are high quality and state funded. These countries can afford to spend so heavily on public services because all four are so heavily taxed that they also made the top ten-list in 2011 for the most heavily taxed countries in the world.
All of this can be related back to bullying in schools. Studies highlight that a common cause of bullying is socioeconomic (SE) inequality and deprivation (Wong, Lok, Lo & Ma, 2007). Similarly, Mouly and Sankaran (2000) highlight that the envy and jealousy that accompanies the syndrome is often related as much to the societal status of the bully as it is to the status of the person they are cutting down.
Consequently, it doesn’t surprise me that bullying is so prevelant in U.S schools, as Abigail highlights. This graphic highlights that the U.S (along with many other countries) has high SE inequalities compared to other countries:
Furthermore, compare the SE inequalities of New Zealand and Australia. TPS is culturally ingrained in both countries, yet New Zealand have higher SE disparity (Marie, Fergusson & Boden, 2010) and are reported to have the second worst bullying problems in the world.
The point I’m making is that TPS only seems to be a bad thing when societies are unequal, in which case it can result in bullying, and clearly a negative school environment. My worry is that the way this country is going, we are going to see a reduction in tax funded public services, increasing the socioeconomic gap between rich and poor, which will increase the problem of bullying in our schools. What good will all our innovations and efforts to change education be if schools are full of bullies?
In my opinion, only by providing the necessary state funded public services to reduce the inequalities suffered by socio-economically deprived populations will countries be able to stop the problem of bullying in schools.