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.Back to Tabs
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“Agency is a book that people on both the left and the right should read. It is a guidebook for those who want to help lift up lower-income communities and struggling individuals. It is common sense reimagined.”
—Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution and founder of the AHA Foundation
“This book is a gift to all those in the rising generation who are baffled by the ominous pessimism that our culture now projects at them from every direction and find themselves unable to envision a future that speaks to their highs longings. They deserve better from us. And Rowe offers them better by helping them see where a morally meaningful sense of direction might be found.”
—Yuval Levin, director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and editor of National Affairs
“What a strange world we live in, where the party of libertarians declares we are radically free, and the party of fate—the party that preaches the dogma of ‘systemic racism’—declares that only the state can save us. Ian Rowe tells us there is a third, realistic alternative: we flourish and discover true liberty only in and through our mediating institutions, most notably, our families. In this fine-grained and deeply personal account, we discover a way forward for our entire country.”
—Joshua Mitchell, professor of government, Georgetown University
“Ian Rowe offers a serious look at how we’re failing our kids—and how we can course correct. This isn’t hyped-up flimflam—Ian’s impressive time in education, politics, media, and philanthropy help him offer a sober analysis of the challenges our kids face. Ian’s not grumbling about kids or sitting on the sidelines—he puts forward a thought-provoking game plan that draws deeply from the American Idea. He’s got the data, the stories, and the experience to make his argument well worth your time, regardless of your political leanings. We can’t ignore these problems—our kids are counting on us.”
—Ben Sasse, United States Senator from Nebraska
“In Agency, Ian Rowe provides a thoughtful and nuanced analysis of the challenges facing struggling communities and offers a practical, data-driven framework to empower even those from the most difficult circumstances to overcome barriers and succeed. Rowe’s FREE framework centers on the importance of faith, family, education, and personal responsibility, and he recognizes that a vibrant civil society with strong local institutions is a key ingredient for human flourishing. Rowe’s message is a compassionate, inspiring, and refreshing alternative to the divisive, disempowering rhetoric we so often hear today.”
—Elise Westhoff, President and CEO, Philanthropy Roundtable
“This hope-filled, wise and spiritually enlightening book should be read—must be read—by every parent, teacher, legislator and community activist in America. With passion, clarity of thought and an abiding faith in the unlimited possibilities of this great nation, accomplished educator and entrepreneur Ian Rowe provides a road map for all of our children to realize their full human potential.”
—Glenn Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics, Brown University