Is “personal responsibility” an offensive concept?

Last week, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute posted a few observations about contemporary political discourse.  It includes a noteworthy anecdote.

Example: I was at Columbia University earlier this year talking about Letters to a Young Education Reformer when, in response to a question, I suggested that many schools have gotten squeamish about teaching values. An audience member asked what I had in mind, and I said I was thinking about things like respect, personal responsibility, and timeliness. She had a particularly strong reaction to “personal responsibility” and said, “It sounds like you want to blame students if they don’t succeed.” She said that she found the very phrase “personal responsibility” to be offensive—the kind of thing that David Duke might say. When I brought that up in other venues this spring, I was struck by how many others were similarly uncomfortable with something I regard as foundational. When polite culture frowns on talk of personal responsibility, those who believe in it may feel impelled to turn to impolite culture.

I, too, believe it to be foundational.  Both children and adults encounter circumstances that are beyond their control.  But that does not mean that they should not take ownership of the matters that they can control.

Terry Stoops / Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies

Terry Stoops is the Vice President for Research and Director of Education Studies at the John Locke Foundation. Before joining the Locke Foundation, he worked as the progra...

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