Ian Rowe: Teaching Virtues
Ian Rowe believes in teaching students four cardinal virtues: courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance. These qualities make up the core curriculum at his forthcoming International Baccalaureate public charter high schools in the Bronx, set to open in 2022. A product of New York City’s public school system himself, Rowe is determined to give parents an option that promotes classic ideas about equality that many still believe can work.
“The schools will be grounded in the ideas of equality of opportunity, individual dignity and our common humanity,” says Rowe. “They're schools that will be dedicated to this idea of democratic discourse, our ability to debate across differences, where we won't reduce kids to individual, immutable characteristics. We won't reduce kids to just characteristics like race or gender, but instead treat each student as individual human beings with great capacities to achieve.”
Students in Rowe’s charter schools will study real-life cases of individuals who overcame persecution to achieve greatness. As an example, he cites Booker T. Washington, who partnered with Julius Rosenwald to build nearly 5,000 schools for black children in the south during the Jim Crow era. Rowe believes these stories will inspire his students to be more determined and self-confident in their own lives.
Many of the current debates surrounding children’s education focus on what belongs in the classroom, including Critical Race Theory, Common Core Standards, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs, and anti-bullying campaigns. But Rowe points out that these debates ignore more pressing issues.
“I think a lot of [these debates are] a massive distraction from some fundamental issues facing kids of all races in our country,” said Rowe. “It's still the case that less than 40 percent of all kids in our country are reading at grade level. This is a massive literacy crisis. Things like Critical Race Theory and DEI have nothing to do with improving outcomes for children and take attention away from important factors like family structure, having school choice, the ability for parents to choose great schools, really empowered curricula that's rigorous in nature, the science of reading. You know, these are the factors that really determine whether or not kids are going to be successful.”
Rowe is also Chairman and CEO of Spence-Chapin, a nonprofit adoption services organization. Although adoption and education may initially appear unrelated, Rowe believes that student background and socioeconomic status are even more important in determining a student’s academic performance than factors like school funding or facilities.
“Given that the research was so overwhelming and it's never been disproven that family structure and home environment are far greater determinants of student outcomes, then a lot of my research is focused on, well, how do we build stronger families for kids?” explained Rowe. “And one of the ways we can do that is through strengthening adoption as a more culturally acceptable answer, especially for young women who find themselves pregnant or without a partner.”
Rowe is a strong supporter of schools playing an active role in influencing the lifestyle choices of students. The Success Sequence, for example, is a research-based roadmap to the middle-class based on just three steps: finish high school, get a full-time job, get married before having children—and in that order. According to a report titled “The Millennial Success Sequence” by Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox, 97 percent of millennials who followed this model were able to avoid poverty.
“I run schools in districts where only 2 percent of kids are graduating from high school ready for college, meaning that the kids that start in ninth grade, they either drop out or four years later, they actually do earn their high school diploma, but still can't do reading or math without remediation if they were to go to college. And that's just not giving young people a good enough start in life.”
As a member of FAIR’s Board of Advisors, Rowe brings the knowledge he’s gained from over a decade working in public schools. He helped develop the FAIR Learning Standards, which provides a pedagogical framework for educators to implement FAIR’s pro-human approach throughout their curriculum.
“One of the existing advisors recommended me to the board of advisors and I met Bion [Bartning],” explained Rowe. “We started talking and discovered that we were aligned in this idea that we need a pro-human approach to schooling, to so many areas of our life, but we very much bonded on that whole idea.”
Since joining, Rowe has been an active member of the Board and is currently working to implement the ideals of the FAIRstory Curriculum into his own charter schools. Rowe aims to spread the idea that we must treat young people as unique individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. He has hosted FAIR webinars, educating parents about the opportunities and challenges of using the legal system to end unethical, race-essentialist educational policies.
“I ran for school board in my own hometown and won, so I've actually done webinars for FAIR for people who are interested in running for school board. So I've tried to help more people who are considering taking action in their own local communities and uphold the FAIR principles.”
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