The Book

Every child in America deserves to know that a path to a successful life exists and they have the power to follow it. But instead, our kids are besieged by two incomplete, harmful narratives.

The “blame the system” narrative teaches kids they are powerless against societal forces—that only systemic change can open their path to prosperity. Meanwhile, the “blame the victim” narrative tells them that any undesirable outcome in life is a product of their own shortcomings, regardless of whether they have received any meaningful support or guidance along the way.

But there is a third way – Agency, which keeps the individual at its center while relying on mediating institutions (families, faith communities, schools, neighborhoods, and work) to guide and support young people so they can lead flourishing lives.

Agency is the force of one’s free will guided by moral discernment.

Young people need a sense of hope, grit, and belief in their own ability to shape their future—that is the “thrust” of agency. But they also need to develop moral discernment—the “guiding force” of agency—by engaging four building blocks: Family, Religion, Education, and Entrepreneurship (FREE).


Family does not mean the family that you were born into. Rather, it is the family you will form in the future— society’s first and most vital mediating institution. Married, two-parent households are overwhelmingly linked to positive outcomes for children.


Religion is a central force for good in the world. Faith-based communities need to be revitalized and reengaged because they have a unique capacity to speak moral authority into children’s lives and they strengthen society’s most important institutions.


Education is more important than ever as our country works to create an “opportunity society” for people of all backgrounds. We must do more to encourage young people to take ownership of their own learning, while also opening more educational doors for students that level the playing field of opportunity.


Entrepreneurship calls on each person to cultivate an “ownership” mindset about their own lives, learning the dignity and value of work while also approaching their jobs and careers not only as employees but also as prospective employers.

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.

Young people do not have to be trapped between the paralyzing state of waiting for “systemic” change and the isolating burden of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. There is a third way – they can be FREE!

About the Author

Ian V. Rowe is the founder of Vertex Partnership Academies and a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In addition to serving ten years as CEO of Public Prep, he held leadership positions at Teach for America, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the White House, and MTV, where he earned two Public Service Emmys. Rowe earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University’s College of Engineering and his HS diploma from Brooklyn Tech as part of a K-12 NYC public education.


“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

“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

“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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