From Where is your school on the pyramid?

Suppose that for some Machiavellian reason you wanted to create the most dysfunctional society possible. What would its main features comprise? You would need to ensure that its citizens lived in a state of mutual distrust, competition and violence, creating the “war of all against all” described by Thomas Hobbes. The adults you would scourge with physical and mental ill-health, high crime rates, obesity and premature death. In the children you would promote bullying, poor education and teen pregnancies. Happiness would be ever on the decline.

This, and more, we have already created, according to the findings of The Spirit Level (2009). The United States, despite its high GDP, leads the industrialized world in the majority of the societal ills described above. The most likely cause of this malaise, according to the statisticians that authored The Spirit Level, is the ever-widening income gap between the top 20% and bottom 20% of earners. The more equality that exists within a country (e.g. Japan, Sweden), the better that nation does in all social dimensions even if its average income levels are lower than the more unequal nation states.

The Spirit Level makes its case with compelling use of statistics pulled from the major world surveys. Its findings gives context to the high levels of bullying and intolerance that we have witnessed in the United States in recent years. (See the chart below that the authors kindly permitted No Bully to copy.)

Given the societal forces that lead U.S. students to bullying and violence, should we simply give up our attempts to make our schools bully-free? The answer is no, and here is why. Each school community is to greater or lesser degree its own nation state and there are plenty of schools that have successfully established the principle that they do things differently than the outside society. The moral of The Spirit Level is that the way a society organizes itself has significant impact on its health: flatter hierarchies and greater inclusivity lead to healthier and happier citizens.

No Bully is proposing a pyramid to map the optimum functioning of your school community. The schools that No Bully has found to be happiest and most successful and have graduated from promoting student competition (“war of all against all”) to adopt a more collaborative and project-based approach to learning. (If these are new concepts to you, check out the research at Edutopia). Way stations in this journey of culture change are respect and tolerance. Schools with these values teach students that there are limits to each student’s pursuit of their individual drives, namely when their acts ambitions cause harm to others. But tolerance and respect are not enough. The most successful schools harness the joy and intellectual power that comes when we work together and include all. The final question, therefore, is where is your school’s place on this pyramid?

No Bully encourages you to post your reactions to this blog and especially to our pyramid. You can find out more about our work to help schools move up the pyramid at

This entry was posted on January 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm and is filed under Societal causes of bullying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.



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