The latest education outrage out of Florida? A Tallahassee school board fired a principal after parents complained about a “pornographic” lesson featuring Michelangelo’s David (1501–04), the 14-foot-tall nude marble Renaissance masterpiece.
The monumental sculpture, today housed at Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, is one of art history’s most iconic artworks—but that didn’t help save Hope Carrasquilla’s job at Tallahassee Classical School when parents objected to its inclusion in a lesson for the sixth-grade class.
Following the controversy, Barney Bishop, the chair of the school board, demanded her resignation, which Carrasquilla tendered on Monday during an emergency board meeting. The board named teacher Cara Wynn as her successor.
“It saddens me that my time here had to end this way,” Carrasquilla, who had held her post since the beginning of the school year, told the Tallahassee Democrat, which first reported her ouster.
Tallahassee Classical, a kindergarten through grade 10 charter school, has gone through three principals since opening in the fall of 2020. It is affiliated with Hillsdale College, a private conservative college in Michigan that has designed a “classical education curriculum model” billed as a return to the foundational tenets of Western civilization.
After a decade in “classical education,” Carrasquilla knew that “once in a while you get a parent who gets upset about Renaissance art,” she told the Huff Post. But she never thought she would lose her job over it. (Bishop, the board chair, has insisted in various news outlets that there were other issues that more directly led to Carrasquilla’s forced resignation.)
Parents had not been informed that the teacher would be including David in instruction about Renaissance art—a violation of a rule put in place two months ago by the school board requiring teachers notify families of “potentially controversial” lesson content two weeks ahead of time.
By not sending out notice, “we made an egregious mistake,” Bishop told Slate.
He clarified that one of the parents was upset that the teacher had allegedly told children that the sculpture was “non-pornography” and that they shouldn’t to tell their parents about it.
“Non-pornography—that’s a red flag. And of course telling the students, ‘Don’t tell your parents’—that’s a huge red flag!” Bishop said. “That word is inappropriate in that classroom.… you don’t need to be saying that word in a classroom in Florida!”
Florida, of course, has become a flashpoint for conservative education legislation under Governor Ron DeSantis, such as the Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” act, which limits teachers’ ability to discuss anything related to sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms. Another bill banned the teaching of critical race theory in kindergarten through grade 12.
“We agree with everything the governor is doing in the educational arena. We support him because he’s right,” Bishop told the Independent, claiming that Tallahassee Classical was at the “cutting edge” when it came to Florida’s new educational standards.
Only three parents objected to the David, two on the grounds that there was no advance warning, the other out of concern that the full frontal nudity was not appropriate viewing for sixth graders. But that was still a major problem for the Tallahassee Classical board.
“Parental rights trump everything else,” Bishop told Huff Post, noting that the school had been founded in response to the “woke indoctrination that was going on.”
“Parents choose this school because they want a certain kind of education,” he added in Slate. “We’re not gonna have courses from the College Board. We’re not gonna teach 1619 or CRT [critical race theory] crap.”
The unexpected controversy surrounding perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture mirrors a plot point in a 1990 episode of the Simpsons. After successfully protesting the violence in the Itchy and Scratchy cartoons, Marge Simpson is solicited to help block a local exhibition of David, which detractors dub an “abomination” for its depiction of “evil” body parts. Marge, on the other hand, thinks the statue is a masterpiece that everyone in Springfield should see.
This isn’t the first time that the satire of the “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” episode has hewed closely to real life events—in 2016, a Russian woman started a campaign to add clothes to a 16-foot-tall plastic copy of David on view in St. Petersburg. And, in 2021, a 3-D-printed copy of the work was displayed with strategic barriers blocking the genitals from view at the Italian pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai.
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