Michelangelo's David: Fit for the classroom?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Michelangelo's David
(Image credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

The board of the Tallahassee Classical School in Florida last week pressured the principal, Hope Carrasquilla, to resign after three parents of sixth-graders complained that their children had been shown an image of Michelangelo's David — a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture — without their knowledge. One of the parents said the statue, which depicts the heroic Biblical figure standing nude, was "pornographic."

Barney Bishop III, chair of the charter school's board, said the problem with the lesson wasn't nudity. It's a classical school, he said, so students see nude images in Renaissance art, including Michelangelo's 16th-century sculpture of David, every year. The problem this time was that the administration didn't follow board policy to notify parents so they could decide whether to request a different lesson if they felt David was not age-appropriate. "Parental rights are supreme, and that means protecting the interests of all parents, whether it's one, 10, 20, or 50," Bishop told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.

The decision sparked an immediate backlash. Parents who defended Carrasquilla crowded into a raucous school board meeting demanding that Bishop resign. A few teachers backed Carrasquilla's resignation, blaming her for teacher turnover and poor communication. Critics had a field day mocking the parents who complained, noting that a 1990s episode of The Simpsons foreshadowed their outrage over David's nakedness. In the cartoon, residents of Springfield protest the famed sculpture as offensive when it is brought to town, and a newscaster on the fictitious show Smartline asks: "Is it a masterpiece, or just some guy with his pants down?"

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David vs. the Philistines, Round 2

Once again, David, who famously smote Goliath, is doing battle with the Philistines, said Stephanie Hayes in the Tampa Bay Times. It is worth noting that Tallahassee Classical "is required to teach Renaissance art in sixth grade," which, parents should have known, can't "be accomplished without looking at body parts." How ironic that this school uses "the vaunted Hillsdale curriculum" — popular with conservatives because "it's rooted in Western moral and civic values, not like 'all the crap' taught in public schools" — but the anti-woke crowd is upset the parents didn't get "a trigger warning."

The "drama might be mildly amusing if it were restricted to one dysfunctional school," argued Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian. "Alas, it's just the latest example of a terrifying lurch towards censorship and authoritarianism in Florida," where Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential contender, "is on a censorship crusade" with schools as his "first major battleground." DeSantis is putting so-called parental choice ahead of education and students' rights, pushing to limit what teachers can teach about race, gender, and sexuality. "Give it a few years and showing a child a picture of Michelangelo's David will be a criminal offense, punishable by firing squad."

The question 'isn't whether David is porn — it's not'

Tallahassee Classical has shown David's image in classes before, "and will again," said Bill Cotterell in the Tallahassee Democrat. But you can bet parents will get a note beforehand from now on, giving them the option of having their kids "grow up blissfully unaware of human anatomy." "The problem is not whether David is porn — it's not." The issue is "whether a school that holds itself forth as a classical academy should let parents impose their personal tastes, even their moral strictures, on the next generation."

As Karen Townshend in Hot Air agreed, the bit about David being pornographic obviously is "absurd." And "without all the reasons for her termination," it "sounds harsh" to fire Carrasquilla if her main offense was neglecting to notify parents that their children were going to see a famous work of art, even one they find scandalous. "But, this is a conservative school," so it shouldn't come as a surprise that parents want their say. Still, it's hard to argue that the world's "great works of art" aren't appropriate for students at age 11 or 12.

David has always been controversial

Michelangelo's 17-foot-tall marble statue of David has been controversial from the start, notes C.A. Bridges in The Daytona Beach News-Journal. When it was unveiled in 1504, even Leonardo da Vinci, while praising it as a masterwork, "suggested it be given a loin cloth." Queen Victoria was so shocked by David's privates when she received a copy as a gift that she had a detachable, plaster fig leaf made to protect sensitive eyes.

The museum in Florence, Italy, that houses the original David, commissioned to be placed in the Florence Cathedral, had the right idea when it invited the parents and students of Tallahassee Classical to come see the statue for themselves, said The Miami Herald in an editorial. "At its heart, it was an invitation to education. An invitation to open-mindedness." Isn't that what school, and art, are about?

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