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How can we empower America’s children? That question has driven Ian Rowe throughout his career. He served ten years as CEO of Public Prep, a network of charter schools in the South Bronx, and held senior roles at places such as the White House, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and MTV. At each juncture, he noticed that young people—especially those from minority and underprivileged backgrounds—were receiving and unfortunately often absorbing a cultural narrative that devastated their chances of success. Moreover, they were growing up in communities with high concentrations of fragile families, lack of school choice, declines in religiosity, and significant unemployment.

The debilitating narrative combined with their challenging conditions communicated to young people that they were victims of forces beyond their control, that their destinies were not up to them. Rowe resolved to promote a rewrite of the victimhood narrative and to champion a change in institutions. An overhaul of both, he realized, is the only way to impress upon children that they have the power to live the lives of their choosing.

To be clear, Rowe fully acknowledges the reality of societal barriers in disadvantaged communities. That’s why, in addition to a personal conviction in their own potential, kids need the nurturing structure, the consistent discipline, and the moral direction that social institutions traditionally have provided. In particular, they need Family, Religion, Education, and Entrepreneurship—the very pillars that have crumbled in our most disadvantaged communities.

In Agency, Rowe argues from data, research, and experience for the revitalization of these institutions, which he encapsulates in the acronym F.R.E.E. The acronym is appropriate because these principles are freely available to everyone and make up the moral ingredients that give direction to a person’s free will—their personal agency.

Rowe further incorporates into his argument the voices of individuals struggling in broken environments, giving them a platform they are not normally afforded. Their direct testimony underscores the perverse incentives that flood into neighborhoods stripped of society’s mediating institutions. It also reveals the hunger of young people for the kind of information Rowe provides—a desire to better themselves, their families, and their communities.

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