Translating Great Hearts in a New Region

Great Hearts Harviston October 31, 2022

Sam HeismanMr. Samuel Heisman, Founding Head of School at Great Hearts Harveston, reflected on conveying the Great Hearts model of classical education in a new region.

“I admit…I was not a stellar student in high school or in undergraduate studies. In high school I lacked the drive to learn; and, in college, I found it, but I was making up for knowledge gaps from high school lethargy. Thankfully, I was surrounded by wonderful professors and friends who provided ample encouragement in college, and I was given an education full of formative experiences for which I am eternally grateful. One of these college experiences was in the field of Anglo-Saxon and medieval British literature.

The main mode of the learning in this course was translating Anglo-Saxon and medieval poetry. I loved it. I attacked the act of translation with zeal but, again, very little academic ability. Fortunately we were split into groups and I joined two friends who had more aptitude for translation. We divvied our portion of the poem into three parts, and, being an opportunist, I seized the last portion since it was the shortest—20 lines. We sat down in our fluorescently-lit library study room and began to translate independently but together.

I had finished writing down all the possible semantic ranges for every word in the first sentence, and then it hit me: words can mean more than one thing. Further, I could say the same thing in a few different ways with different syntax. Even further, it was hard to tell whether the poet was trying to make a metaphor or a symbol, and speak figuratively or literally. Let’s just say it took me more than five hours to decide whether the narrator was living with a chair or sitting on it… and that was after I had decided it was a very literal passage.

Finally, at the end of that first sentence, I realized that, though I had picked the shortest section of our assignment, it was the most difficult.  In order to render the last 20 lines artfully and accurately I had to possess an incisive and complete grasp of all that preceded them,  otherwise our group translation would sound like a game of telephone or a mad-lib, and the total effect of the work would be lost.

Now, why am I writing at length about undergrad and translation? Because starting a school in a new region is like translating a Great Text.

The translator’s aim is to offer the same original poetic experience for a new audience in a new language. The essence (core identity) of the work must remain true to the original, but to offer the same experience to our new families, we must translate our program in a way that registers and lands for families who are largely unfamiliar with our unique program. Just like the poet must have a grasp of the whole when translating any particular part of it, a school founding team must consider the continuity of our program and its Telos during every policy decision and hiring decision. We must also articulate it continually—DAILY!—in order to ensure our foundation and launch are solid and faithful to our identity.

We are asking ourselves, “What does cultivating the mind look like in kindergarten? 3rd grade? 7th? And what can we do in all of these grades to make sure that, as a senior, they become intellectually, aesthetically, and morally alive?” We are reckoning with new state standards and new extra-academic challenges, and, throughout all of this, we have gained the opportunity to understand and experience our mission in a more penetrating and more profound way.

But even before that, we are working hard to articulate the mission of “cultivating minds and hearts…” in a way that parents—who have never heard of anything like this—can hear. Just as a modern translator must emphasize certain parts of an ancient metaphor that an original audience may have understood intuitively, a founding team must identify core concerns of a new region to see how our program speaks to that need. We must also meet the challenge of remaining true to our program while aligning to new state standards and statutes.

Finally, it has become clear to us, the longer we spend time with our audience—those who will “read” and “hear” our work of translation—that the tone of our work must be compassionate and lively. This could, perhaps, be said about all works of education, but, given the state of education in Louisiana and the newness of our audience, these qualities will be especially important here. Imagine hearing of an experience in K-12 liberal education for the first time. To see its beauty and worth, and avoid crippling intimidation or mislead perceptions of elitism, our message must be coupled with compassion and lively interaction on a very personal/individual basis.

Harveston SealAll this before we have even opened our doors—or recited our translation so to speak. If Great Hearts Harveston is a translation of the Great Hearts Program, then, like all of our schools, it is a very intricate translation. One with many verses, verses which call for different voices at times – the voices of our teachers. The teachers who are part of school launch team are a vital co-translator, their work is the experience. It is and will be Great Hearts Harveston and Great Hearts Louisiana.  Further, since we start as a K-7 academy, the poem is not finished yet…not for six years.

If you love teaching courses in the classical liberal arts, thinking about their philosophical roots, thinking about the cause and end of our entire program, and building a mechanism to provide this program to those who would otherwise not be able to access it, consider coming to visit us, and consider further, if you’d like to translate with us.”

Join Great Hearts Harveston!  For more information, contact Mr. Heisman today.

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