A Tallahassee Classical School teacher showed a sixth-grade art history class a photo of Michelangelo’s “David” in all his glory, and that’s when everything went south.
Florence is one of my favorite cities. Beautiful architecture, beautiful art, an amazing history. There is something fascinating to watch at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy. The museum is home to Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of the biblical David, naked with a sling over his shoulder and a rock in his hand, preparing to battle the fearsome Goliath.
Upon entering the museum, you make a quick left, then an immediate right. Ahead, roughly 50 yards in front of you, stands “David.” From this point, these 50 yards away, you can stand and listen to the audible gasps of visitors as they first gaze upon the sculpture from this distance. It tells you two things: No photograph can do justice to seeing the real thing; the real thing is a stunning artistic achievement.
“David” is the height of classic Renaissance art culture, sculpted by the man who also painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which features biblical imagery of all kinds, both nude and clothed.
Michelangelo wanted to show the power of God in the empty hand of a young David, who would use a single rock to defeat a giant. Many called it a miracle. Nobody called it controversial, let alone pornographic.
The plan was to position the sculpture aside a series of prophetic statues some 90 feet above ground along the roofline of the Florence Cathedral, which is why the hands, feet and head are oversized. In perspective, viewed from below at that distance, the appendages would appear normal in size. But authorities at the time deemed the sculpture too magnificent to be that far from public view. Of course, the statue weighing 6 tons, made matters academic as it would have been nearly impossible to raise the sculpture to that height. Instead, it was placed at ground level in the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government in Florence, for all to see. It stood there for nearly 400 years before being moved inside the museum where it is today. The story of how it was moved and then how it was incased in brick to protect it during WW2 is AMAZING.
Interestingly, David was viewed as a defender of civil liberties in Florence, an independent city-state threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and the Medici hegemony. This defiance is expressed in David’s eyes, the statue situated to cast a cautionary glare toward Rome — an early version, perhaps, of the “Live free or die” concept.
But only in America is art controversial, particularly in conservative bastions like Florida. Each year since its opening in 2020, the Tallahassee Classical School would show a photo of “David” to a sixth-grade art history class.
This year, a controversy erupted. Three parents complained. In response, the school fired the principal, sent an apology letter to parents and held an emergency board meeting, where many parents condemned the firing.
School board chair Barney Bishop III insisted it was not a firing and that the principal resigned.
He’s full of it.
“We didn’t remove her,” he told Slate in a heated interview. “I went to her last week and offered her two letters. One was a voluntary resignation and another a letter that said if she decided not to resign, I was going to ask the board to terminate her without cause.”
Orwellian double-speak. Slice it any way you like, that was a firing.
Bishop may be on firmer ground in explaining that multiple concerns led to the principal’s dismissal, though he couldn’t elaborate for legal reasons.
But it seems there’s blame enough to go around.
School policy requires that parents receive written notice two weeks in advance informing them of any sensitive topics their child might be learning, “and they can decide whether it is appropriate for their child to see it,” Bishop said.
The letter was written, but the administration accidentally forgot to send it, according to the principal, Hope Carrasquilla, the school’s third principal in as many years.
“I made the assumption that the letter went out, and I didn’t follow up on it,” she told NPR.
“But honestly,” she added, “we did not have to send out a letter regarding Renaissance art.”
A third problem: While showing the image of “David” in all his glory, the teacher reportedly told the students, “Don’t tell your parents.”
“That’s a huge red flag!” Bishop said.
He has a point, though no one has spoken to the teacher in question, who remains employed.
But here is the fine point of it.
Bishop boasted on the one hand that “we teach the Hillsdale Curriculum. We teach a traditional Western civilization, liberal classical education.”
Yet he argued that parents should know what students will see, hear or discuss in class. The issue, he said, “isn’t whether children should see these pictures or not. Gosh, we’re a classical school. Why wouldn’t we show Renaissance art to children?”
Further on, he said, “Parents know what that curriculum is. And parents are entitled to know any time their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture.”
Just a minute. If parents know what the curriculum is, why do they need to be notified about any of it?
Didn’t the parents know this was a classical school and that their kids would see Renaissance art? Didn’t they know that would include nudity? Isn’t classical education a selling point? Sounds like it, the way Bishop tells it. How could these parents not know that, and if they didn’t know that, why did they enter their children in a lottery hoping their child would be selected to attend? (Students are admitted by lottery drawing.)
Bishop said it was a mistake not to tell parents what the kids would see. Maybe the parents made the mistake of enrolling their kids in a classical education curriculum without knowing what a classical education curriculum is.
It’s certainly worth asking the three complaining parents. Two of the parents complained because they received no advance notice about the lesson plan. The third complained that the image of “David” was pornographic.
“Parents choose this school because they want a certain kind of education,” Bishop told Slate.
Apparently not, pal. Yet he seemed to give parents greater credence than the teachers.
“The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids,” Bishop said. “Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities,” he told the Slate reporter, “you’re on better drugs than me.”
So basically, you’re saying the teachers you hire aren’t all that qualified to teach the subjects they’re hired to teach. Well, why the hell would I send my kid to a school like that?
Sure, let’s put a parent in charge who thinks the statue of David is pornographic. Clearly that parent is unaware that nude portrayals have been a common practice as far back as the Babylonians and Ancient Egypt. The Greeks associated nudity with the beauty, power and perfection of the gods. It had a similar symbolic meaning for artists during the Renaissance, who were inspired by a renewed interest in classic Greek and Roman culture.
But gaining that knowledge might require reading, a subject now under fire in Florida public schools.
Put it this way: If that parent were alive in 1504 when the statue of David was unveiled, were he to call it pornography, he’d be considered backward and ignorant, and be the laughingstock of Florence.
Tallahassee Classical is a tuition-free, taxpayer-funded charter school with some 500 students, 56 of which are in the sixth grade. Like many charter schools in the U.S., its curriculum comes from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan with ties to multiple far-right figures.
The undertones are disturbing. Hillsdale advocates its 1776 curriculum, which opposes factual teachings of history, including the 1619 Project, which explores the history of slavery, racism and the oppression of Black Americans in the U.S. The college played a crucial role in crafting Donald Trump’s “1776 Report,” which reputable historians have condemned as poppycock.
“We’re not gonna have courses from the College Board,” Bishop declared. “We’re not gonna teach 1619 or [critical race theory]crap,” echoing the suppressive policies pushed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who frequently consults the Hillsdale institution on educational issues.
Bishop has enthusiastically embraced DeSantis’ education agenda.
“We agree with everything the governor is doing in the educational arena,” Bishop said. “We support him because he’s right. The whole ‘woke’ indoctrination going on about pronouns and drag queens isn’t appropriate in school.”
Yet, look who’s going woke over art.
Maybe the larger error in all this is the school’s failure to warn parents about the entirety of its curriculum before any of them entered their kid into the lottery system: “Caution: your children will see works of art featuring nudity.”
Or do one of those movie warnings. NNSFCP: Nudity not safe for close-minded parents.
Chances are those sixth-graders, with their cellphones and access to the fullness of the internet’s depravities, have seen far more graphic images than anything they saw in class that day.
A final but important point about nude depictions in classical art: The size of the male member on all these statues. (C’mon, you hadn’t noticed?) Unlike today, when “well-endowed” is typically equated with power and masculinity, the ancient Greeks and their artistic descendants never saw the phallus as a symbol of virility or manliness. Potency came from one’s intellect, reason and self-control.
I dunno about you, but the idea of putting a premium on intellect seems like an excellent lesson to associate with a discussion of “David.”
For a school founded in 2020, it’s ironic how many associated with it have so little vision, let alone wisdom.
My advice: Wake up and grow a pair. If you don’t know what that looks like, there’s this statue in Florence …
Originally Published in Huffington Post By