Dr. Gabriel Haley
(2021-Present, Term Director, Current Term Expires in 2024)
Where do you live? Seward, Nebraska I am an Associate Professor of English at Concordia University, Nebraska, where I teach courses on classical world literature, poetry, Christian humanism, and Latin. I have a B.A. in English and Classics from Hillsdale College. I have an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia.
How did you become involved with CCLE? I have been interested in classical education since at least college. I learned about the CCLE in 2016 when looking for resources online. Recognizing that this was a group I wanted to be involved in, I quickly registered as a member. It was a delight to be elected to the Board of Directors at the CCLE conference in 2021.
How would you describe Classical education to someone who is unfamiliar with it? My snappy, two-part introduction is that classical education: (1) teaches specific content, namely foundational sources, and (2) employs a particular approach, one that searches for the good, the true, and the beautiful. In doing these things, classical education aims to convey knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.
What would you say to encourage others to become involved with CCLE? All Christian education will have some commonality with classical education, whether this is acknowledged or not: namely, the belief in transcendent truth and goodness. But Classical Christian education is a fully worked out model, such that all content and methods are attuned to liturgical life. Learning classically involves a concrete history and philosophy that avoids the segmenting the life of faith apart from other, “real world” considerations. It doesn’t want to create mere “workers,” but to cultivate human beings.
What else would you like to share? As I see it, a Classical Christian institution can forward a more convincing defense of education than any other model now available. As many scholars have noted, during the second half of the twentieth century, higher education widely altered its motivation. The idea that literary or other works ought to be studied because they were “great” gave way to a more Foucauldian attention to power politics. That is (in brief), professors began teaching that certain texts were worth studying, not for the way they aspired to excellence or suggested virtue, but rather inasmuch as they resisted an oppressive hegemony. Marginalized texts were recuperated. The texts traditionally studied received new “lenses.”
At times this value system sounds a lot like Christian charity, and it has brought academic
attention to some forgotten works and histories certainly deserving the attention. Yet it
cannot supply a rigorous defense of its own principles—at least not beyond vaguely
utilitarian notions of human rights. As a result, the activist beginnings of this takeover of the
liberal arts rationale gave way to a more eclectic and arbitrary selection of texts.
Without faithful adherents, the archeological method tended to be replaced by a
singular emphasis on hermeneutical skills. The choice of texts itself did not matter. What
came to be valued was not any particular knowledge or wisdom, but rather the ability to interpret (as creatively as possible). Without the emancipatory ends once thought to be so crucial, the emphasis on skills privileged critical thinking for its own sake. It is, I think, the emphasis on skills divorced from any idea of the intrinsic worth of cultural works that has elevated the popular suspicion of education. Hence, more recently we’ve seen a countertrend, where ideology is once again ascendant. But what are the grounds for these new moral assertions?
As Alasdair MacIntyre argued in After Virtue, without recourse to a common ground
of truth, a widespread emphasis on subjective, individual values threatens to undermine even
the virtues necessary for civil governance, such as true social justice. In order for any work to be
studied for its own sake, it must be identified with some virtue or excellence that cannot be
overturned by anyone’s revaluation of values. In other words, in order for an
interdisciplinary education to thrive within our ever-increasingly utilitarian environment,
education must be grounded in spiritual truths, or what the belletrist Russell Kirk liked to
call the Permanent Things. And while I applaud the efforts of figures like MacIntyre or Kirk—indeed, their works are framed to seek a larger audience than the specific one I mean to address here—the Aristotelian and idealist leanings of their works cannot be as convincing as an explicitly Christ-centered approach. No current creed that I know of devotes itself to the teachings of Aristotle. And the triune and personal God attracts awe unlike any Permanent
Clearly, I am speaking of matters of faith—and that’s my point. A Classical Christian school
provides the best rationale for education because it proclaims the faith that is ultimately necessary. One may certainly find points of dialogue with those who disagree, but we must not hide the fact that we witness of the unchanging Truth that is, indeed, liberating. Such an emphasis need not appear as naïve idealism or a neglect of the pragmatic needs of students. Martin Luther’s concept of vocation, for instance, reveals how a real-world attention to career and family does not dismiss one’s sense of greater calling and purpose. Organized within this Christian perspective, our institutions of education can provide a model of human flourishing, at once pragmatic and inspiring. The lofty goal of becoming an educated people—ultimately a very pragmatic goal, to be sure—is most convincing when one recognizes with wonder that human beings are made in the image of an awe-inspiring God.