What is Inappropriate?

Published: March 28, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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David by Michelangelo Florence Galleria dell’Accademia
Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna

Along with Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” Michelangelo’s marble statue of “David,” is one of the two most recognizable and revered works in the art world. Both works of classical Renaissance art have been reproduced on everything from umbrellas to coffee mugs. But you probably won’t find a gift shop selling either of those iconic images anywhere near the Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County, Florida.

Hope Carrasquilla, now the former principal of the charter school, said that she was forced to resign her position absent a clear explanation as to why.

The why appears to be connected to objections by three parents for showing the image of “David” to students who were attending a required class in Renaissance art. One parent called the statue “pornographic.”

The statue is “controversial,” Barney Bishop III, the chair of the school’s board stated. However, Bishop says that Carrasquilla “wasn’t let go because of the artistic nude pictures. We show it every year to our students. The problem with this particular issue was the lack of follow-through on the process.”

The process Bishop is referring to is a letter Carrasquilla was apparently required to send to all parents before the class notifying them that the image of “David” and other classic works of art would be displayed in class.

Tallahassee Classical follows a curriculum established by Hillsdale College, a conservative, Christian institution in Michigan with dozens of such charter schools around the country. The College is also noted for fighting against what it calls, “progressive” and “leftist academics.” Hillsdale and Tallahassee Classical require teaching Renaissance art to sixth graders. The class also included images of “The Creation of Adam” fresco painting and “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli.

On its website, the school’s mission “is training the minds and improving the hearts of young people through a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”

I’m all for teaching character and civic virtue. Public, as well as private schools, should offer such education. However,  Tallahassee Classical stresses “a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts.”

Bishop’s statement appears to contradict with the school’s mission statement placing parents’ rights over teachers’ knowledge.

“Parental rights are supreme, and that means protecting the interests of all parents, whether it’s one, 10, 20, or 50 [parents],” Bishop told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Regarding the role of teachers, the school’s “Family Handbook” states that the school “employs teachers based on their mastery of an academic discipline, [and] their ability to convey knowledge to young people.”

Wouldn’t the school’s board believe their teachers have a greater knowledge of the content of a classical education than parents? If parents object, they can choose a school that more closely conforms to their own beliefs.

The Tallahassee school’s vision statement reads: “through the development of virtuous character, scholars will be equipped to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Wouldn’t images from the Renaissance period of art—images that have been printed and reprinted in textbooks and other media—be considered beauty offered in a “content-rich classical education”?

Bishop also states that “[Carrasquilla] wasn’t let go because of the artistic nude pictures. We show it every year to our students.”

If the images are shown to students every year, why would it be necessary to have Carrasquilla send a separate letter to parents regarding the content of the class? Why not mention that some of the course material presented may be “controversial” in the “Family Handbook” asking parents with questions to contact the principal for more information?

It appears that rather than have a private and respectful discussion of the matter between Bishop, Carrasquilla and the parents, Bishop, and the board chose to force a top educator to resign.

What lesson does that teach?

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