It took a move to South America for Hillsdale Academy’s new headmaster David Diener to discover his love for education.
After graduating from Wheaton College, Diener was building high-end custom cabinets and doing trim carpentry work for an Amish company in Ohio. For a few years, he and his wife, Brooke, whom he met at Wheaton, had wanted to live overseas, and they ended up moving to Bogotá, Colombia as missionaries, teaching at a Christian international school there.
“I realized I love teaching, I love the intellectual engagement that I have with the students, I love the platform for discipleship and for influencing their lives that the classroom offers, and it turned out I was good at it too,” Diener said.
They eventually came back to the states so Diener could pursue doctoral degrees in philosophy and philosophy of education at Indiana University. Diener returned to carpentry work in order to fund his post-graduate studies, a trade he learned shortly after his freshman year of high school.
Diener began working as the college’s new headmaster in July. Diener is extensively involved in the realm of classical education, serving on the board of directors for the Society for Classical Learning and as a member of SCL’s Alcuin fellowship, a think tank dedicated to researching classical curricula, pedagogy, and culture. He is also a consultant for Classical Academic Press, which provides publishing, media, and consulting services to schools and homeschools.
Former Academy Headmaster Ken Calvert said he had heard of Diener through various networks of classical Christian schools across the nation, noting that Diener is a well-known speaker and nationally-known figure in the classical Christian community. He also said Diener is very comfortable with rural life, which is “crucial” to the academy position.
“He grew up in Michigan and his wife in northern Ohio,” Calvert said in an email. “He knows how to use a chain saw, he can hunt and gut his own deer, and he is very comfortable around farm animals.”
Prior to taking his new position as Hillsdale Academy headmaster, Diener served as headmaster for Grace Academy in Georgetown, Texas. Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said Diener did a “shining job” running the Texas school and that he rose to the top after a “long search” for the right candidate.
“He understands education deeply, and we believe rightly. He will bring energy to the academy, which we hope can grow a bit, to the Barney Charter School project, and to the education program.”
Before Grace Academy, Diener turned down a tenure track philosophy professor job in order to work at a K-12 school because of his firm belief in the classical school model.
“I realized the caliber of education happening especially in the high schools of many classical schools is eclipsing, unfortunately, the level of education taking place at many undergraduate institutions,” he said.
Diener also emphasizes the deep connections between Christianity and liberal-arts education, something the academy regularly acknowledges through activities like chapel services and prayer.
“I think a liberal arts approach to education in a broad sense is intrinsically theological insofar as it asks questions about the ultimate meaning of reality and existence,” he said. “Certainly throughout history there have been many strands of classical education, some explicitly religious and some not, and great good can come about through a liberal arts approach to education, whether it is sacred or secular.”
Besides his administrative role at the school, Diener also joined the Hillsdale College faculty and eventually plans to begin teaching. Diener’s two older children attend the academy, and his wife homeschools the younger two.
Diener said he looks forward to “building on the great work” performed by Calvert and the others at the academy.
“We’re excited to be in Hillsdale and look forward to working at the college and the academy and becoming part of the community,” he said.