But the problem with this, of course, is that what we’re doing is we’re teaching children that they need to compete against each other in an open marketplace. So we are essentially instilling a sense of social anxiety, of social hierarchy. We’re suggesting that inequality is virtuous because those that have done well deserve the rewards. And so essentially what we have now is a culture where we are continually comparing, and it isn’t just in education. The explosion of social media has put this idea of social comparison on steroids and essentially has given us a platform at a societal level for people to engage in social comparison, continually working out where we stand relative to others.
The link to perfectionism here is that if we continually worry about how we perform relative to others, and if the consequences of failure are so catastrophic, both economically but also for our sense of self-worth — that’s to say, if we don’t get the perfect score, if we don’t get a high score, if we don’t rank better than others, then we feel worse about ourselves and our self-esteem — what that means is that we tend to cope in that culture by developing perfectionistic tendencies because of course if we have high standards, then we’re unlikely to fail, and if were unlikely to fail, we’re unlikely to feel badly about ourselves and also we’re more likely to ensure that we have a higher market price.
So that’s why we link it with neoliberalism, because of this idea that we’re almost forcing kids to compete with each other and to cope, perfectionistic tendencies are emerging.