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Hillsdale Academy head­master David Diener

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.