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Every child in America deserves to know that a path to a successful life exists and that they have the power to follow it. But many never set foot on that path because they grow up hearing the message that systemic forces control their destinies, or that they are at fault for everything that has gone wrong in their lives.

These children often come from difficult circumstances. Many are raised by young, single parents, live in disadvantaged neighborhoods, attend substandard schools, and lack the moral safeguards of religious and civic institutions. As a result, they can be dispirited into cycles of learned helplessness rather than inspired to pursue their own possibilities.

Yet this phenomenon is not universal. Some children thrive where others do not. Why? Are there personal behaviors and institutional supports that have proven to make a difference in helping young people chart a course for their futures? Agency answers with a loud and clear “yes!”

This book describes four pillars that can uplift every young person as they make the passage into adulthood: Family, Religion, Education, and Entrepreneurship. Together, these pillars embody the true meaning of freedom, wherein people are motivated to embrace the ennobling responsibilities of building healthy social structures and shaping the outcomes of their own lives.

For that reason, Ian Rowe calls the four pillars the FREE framework. With this framework in place, children are empowered to develop agency, which Rowe defines as the force of one’s free will, guided by moral discernment. Developing agency is the alternative to the debilitating ‘blame-the-system’ and ‘blame-the-victim’ narratives. It transcends our political differences and beckons all who dare to envision lives unshackled by present realities.

In addition to making the case for agency, Rowe shares his personal story of success coming from an immigrant family. He defends America as an ever-improving country worthy of our esteem. He corrects misguided calls for “anti-racism” and “equity,” and champions a game plan for creating new agents of agency, dedicated to promoting the aspirational spirit of America’s children, and showing them the path that will set them FREE.

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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

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Foreword / xi

Introduction / 3

PART 1 What Is Agency and Why Do We Need It Today?

1 What Is Agency and Why Is It So Crucial to Human Flourishing? / 15

2 Two Competing Visions of What Impedes the American Dream and the Effort to Build Agency / 25

3 The Third Way: Revitalizing Mediating Institutions to Strengthen Civil Society and Spark Individual Agency / 37

4 How Believing You Live in a Good, If Not Great, Country Helps Build Agency / 47

5 How the Hard Bigotry of “Antiracist” Expectations and the Pursuit of “Equity” Erode Agency for All / 57

PART 2 How My Story of Discovering the Importance of Family Structure Opened the Door for Me to View Agency as the Path Forward for Young Americans

6 Who’s Your Daddy? The Moment I Realized Schools Were Not Enough to Build Agency / 79

7 Robbing Our Young People of Agency: Silence or Denial about the Importance of Family Structure / 91

8 How America Has Changed Young Hearts and Minds in the Past: Teen Pregnancy / 105

9 Dan Quayle Was Right, But His Strategy Was Wrong / 129

10 The Success Sequence: The Empowering Alternative and the Other Building Blocks of Agency / 139

11 The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Foundation of Family / 149

PART 3 How FREE Can Usher in a New “Age of Agency” for Young Americans

12 The FREE Framework to Build Agency / 157

13 Family / 165

14 Religion / 175

15 Education / 185

16 Entrepreneurship / 205

17 A New Age of Agency / 213

Afterword / 223

Appendix / 227

Acknowledgments / 241

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