Agency, Not Equity: A Path to Achieve Excellence for All Versus Universal Mediocrity with Ian Rowe
On February 16th, 2023, Princeton University’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions hosted Ian Rowe, Senior Fellow at AEI, in conversation with Ana Samuel '00, Academic Director of Canavox, for Black History Month. The two discussed the “blame the system” narrative that 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. 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).
Ian Rowe is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he focuses on education and upward mobility, family formation, and adoption. Mr. Rowe is also the cofounder of Vertex Partnership Academies, a new network of character-based International Baccalaureate high schools opening in the Bronx in 2022; the chairman of the board of Spence-Chapin, a nonprofit adoption services organization; and the cofounder of the National Summer School Initiative. He concurrently serves as a senior visiting fellow at the Woodson Center and a writer for the 1776 Unites Campaign. Until July 1, 2020, Mr. Rowe was CEO of Public Prep, a nonprofit network of public charter schools based in the South Bronx and Lower East Side of Manhattan. Before joining Public Prep, he was deputy director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, senior vice president of strategic partnerships and public affairs at MTV, director of strategy and performance measurement at the USA Freedom Corps office in the White House, and cofounder and president of Third Millennium Media. Mr. Rowe also joined Teach for America in its early days.
Mr. Rowe has been widely published in the popular press, including in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Examiner. He is often interviewed on talk radio programs. With his new book “Agency” (Templeton Press, May 2022), Ian Rowe seeks to inspire young people of all races to build strong families and become masters of their own destiny.
Ana Samuel, Ph.D. is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of Notre Dame, where she completed doctoral work on the political theory and sexual ethics of Montesquieu. She was the first executive director of the Witherspoon Institute at its foundation in 2003. She edited No Differences? How Children in Same-Sex Households Fare and directed the development of the New Family Structures Studies website. In 2013, she helped to launch CanaVox, where she continues to oversee the academic content of the organization and ongoing education of the State Leaders. With their help, she develops the CanaVox reading lists in English and Spanish, and ensures that the articles and stories they promote meet high academic standards, conform to their natural law principles and cheer points, and have heart. Every summer, she enjoys teaching the dialogues of Plato and Aristotle’s moral philosophy to high school students for the Witherspoon Institute’s summer seminars.