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[Remarks Delivered to the Arkansas Senate Education Committee, February 16, 2022]

Good afternoon, Senators. I am Professor Albert Cheng and I want to begin by expressing my gratitude for the opportunity to discuss the work of the Center for the Study of Classical Education in the Department of Education Reform --- a research lab that I direct. The Center exists to serve the public good of our state by conducting research about the effects of classical pedagogy, particularly on character formation. While most approaches to education primarily focus on filling the head with information, the classical approach is uniquely attentive to the formation of the whole child – head, heart, and hands; what they think, what they are drawn to, and what they do.


Classical education also draws upon diverse traditions and thought, stretching across millennia and different cultures throughout the world, to invite students to entertain questions of great import from different perspectives: (1) What is a life well lived? (2) Who is a just person? (3) What is a just city? (4) What is true, good, and beautiful? Wrestling with these questions is essential for character formation — all of which is necessary to address today’s intractable challenges such as mending civic division, addressing today’s mental and emotional health concerns, and better caring for our neighbors and communities.


Parents across the country and in Arkansas recognize the need for cultivating character. In 2015, a national poll conducted by Education Next at Harvard — a project with which I have past affiliation — found that although nearly one third of parents thought schools should emphasize character education “a lot”, less than 10 percent of parents reported that their schools were doing so. In 2021, parents responded to a related question: How much should schools focus on student academic performance versus student social and emotional wellbeing? The average parent said schools should split their time 50-50.


The hunger for character education is evinced by long wait lists and prolific enrollment growth in classical schools. Great Hearts Academies, a national classical public charter network, had over 13,000 students on their wait list in 2020. More locally, in Northwest Arkansas the demand for classical education has burgeoned too. Across the two campuses of Founders Classical Academy in Bentonville and Rogers, 337 new families of kindergarteners are applying for one of 140 available seats. Three classical schools have opened in the last four years. Ozark Catholic Academy opened first in Tontitown with about 20 ninth and tenth graders and now has quadrupled to over 80 students. All 12 sophomores in the inaugural year graduated and now attend college. Sager Classical Academy opened a year later in Siloam springs with 49 students in the kindergarten through sixth grades. It now plans enroll 140 students and open a high school next year. Anthem Classical Academy, where I am a governing board member, opened last fall with 24 kindergarten through fifth graders, and is poised to double enrollment next fall.

Anthem Classical Academy private Christian school in Fayetteville Northwest Arkansas
Older students at Anthem Classical Academy reading to their Kindergarten buddy.

Parents are right to discern something good about these schools. A national study conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame compared adults who attended classical schools with adults who attended non-classical schools. Among other results, the authors found that individuals who attended classical schools:

  • Reported feeling more prepared for college or job by their school

  • Were more likely to earn a four-year degree

  • Had the strongest sense of purpose, agency in dealing with life’s problems, moral obligation to take actions against injustice – indeed, they were most likely to participate in voluntary community service

By studying the classical approach to education and providing professional resources to steward them, the Center for the Study of Classical Education aspires to improve educational opportunities for all students. Classical schools can benefit not only students who attend them, but also be a beacon, guiding all schools to refine their teaching and learning.

In closing, I will leave you with a passage from an article Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote for the Morehouse College newspaper:

“The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals….We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.”

Those words succinctly capture the practical aim that Center for the Study of Classical Education seeks to attain for all students in our state. Thank you for your time.


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At Anthem, we aspire to prepare our students for service in Northwest Arkansas and the other communities they inhabit. Classical education is positioned to do just that. Why is that? What does the classical approach to civic education have that other approaches do not? In the Winter 2022 issue of National Affairs, Albert Cheng addresses this question, arguing that a proper civic education needs to be understood not as provision of information or skills but as virtue formation.


Read the Essay authored by Albert Cheng on National Affairs here:

https://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-civic-education-we-need

Private Classical Christian School in Fayetteville Northwest Arkansas

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by Jennifer Martin


Our 1st through 5th grade students have been memorizing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells.” Many of us are familiar with selections of the poem since it has been made into the famous Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” However, the poem itself is not as commonly known, and there is an interesting story behind it that is worthy of our attention. It is a story of perseverance, justice, and hope.

Henry Wadswoth Longfellow, Anthem Classical Academy, Fayetteville, Northwest Arkansas
Henry Wadswoth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a famous American poet of the nineteenth century. He was also an abolitionist. He often wrote poems about the Civil War and his hopes for slavery’s end. This is the backdrop in which “Christmas Bells” was written. As much as Longfellow had been a supporter of the Union, he did not want his son, Charles, to serve as a soldier because he was afraid Charles might never make it back home. Nevertheless, Charles joined the Union’s fight, without Longfellow's knowledge, and he served until he was injured terribly in November of 1863. When Longfellow went to retrieve his son, he wrote “Christmas Bells.” Longfellow’s poem encapsulates the suffering the Civil War had caused on both a personal and national level. But Longfellow’s poem also expresses the resiliency of good and its victory over evil. The shift between these ideas is evident throughout the poem. In the first three stanzas, the tone is joyful; the Christmas bells ring to remind mankind that Christ became flesh to bring goodwill and peace to men. Here is a well-known excerpt:


I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!


The tone of the poem changes in the fourth through sixth stanzas. It becomes somber. Longfellow explicitly mentions the war, as he states that the ringing of the cannon blast drowns out the bells that sing of peace on earth. If the poem had ended at the sixth stanza, there would be an entirely different meaning:

And in despair I bowed my head;

"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"


The tone shifts once more in the last stanza of the poem to reveal an important truth: hate does not win and evil does not prevail because there is a God who is more powerful than both. This is good news!

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men."


The students have really captured the joy of this last stanza, as they have been reciting it with loud yet clear voices, smiling faces, and eyes that light up with excitement. They cannot help but use hand motions to express the truth and power behind these lines. Christ has defeated evil, and He will right the wrongs in the world, much like the poem says! We hope you enjoy the poem and that it reminds you of the powerful hope we have as Christians. If there is anything we can pass on to our children at Christmas, let it be the message that they too can have this hope. The same hope that Longfellow had even in the midst of trials. The only hope that can bring peace, justice, and goodwill to man.


Merry Christmas from the Anthem family! You can read the poem in its entirety below:



I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent,

And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;

"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men."


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