Bill Clinton’s mantra “works hard and plays by the rules” frequently elicits more negative associations than positive ones.

I was surprised—shocked, really—the first time someone told me they had a problem with the phrase “personal responsibility.” It was six or eight years ago, and I was speaking at Columbia University Teachers College. We were engaged in a roll-up-your-sleeves back-and-forth on issues of school improvement. I was making a point that learning is always a partnership—between teachers and students and between schools and families—and that both sides need to take responsibility for that partnership to work.

A woman in the audience objected, civilly enough, to my use of the phrase “personal responsibility.” She said it sounded like another way to blame the victim if students

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