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florida & philistines

Are you an educator in the state of Florida? No? Then this is your lucky day –– because today, like most days, is an absolutely phenomenal day to not be an educator in the state of Florida.

I probably need to pin down my "proximate cause" for making this observation, because unfortunately there are all too many candidates. Am I referring to the misunderstanding of critical race theory that seems to be driving state curriculum policies? The confusing guidance on when/whether/why school employees are allowed to have family photos at work? Maybe Ron DeSantis's ongoing, undignified-on-both-sides spat with the College Board?

None of the above! Today we are remarking on just how easy it is, in U.S. education, to lose your job for doing your job –– even the most whitewashed, anodyne, blandly respectable version of it.

In Florida, it turns out, you can land yourself in educational hot water for allowing the art teacher to cover Michelangelo in a unit on the European Renaissance.

Now, usually when I see that Florida is in the news for educational trainwrecks, I look for either an alligator attack of a DeSantis derailment (Florida Man tends to stay out of education, probably in more ways than one). But in this case, Ron DeSantis has yet to make even a cameo appearance (uncharacteristically declining a good opportunity to get in the news for repeating his favorite talking points), and large amphibious reptiles appear not to have been involved.

Then again, there isn't much of the "wokeness" and public health measures that have been the DeSantis Administration's frequent targets over the past few years (the gators, so far as I know, have yet to express any preferences) in a decidedly white, definitely male, distinctly European centerpiece of the Western artistic canon as Michelangelo's statue of David ... on his way to fight Goliath, I might add, which as somebody in the BBC piece (linked above) points out, also puts the topical matter squarely within the culturally dominant Christian tradition (the story is in 1 Samuel, and compares quite favorably with episodes from, say, the Irish Táin bo Cualigne and sundry other hero tales in its scale of action).

I'm less appalled by the fact that somebody, or even several somebodies, objected to including images of the David in the art curriculum (somebody is going to object to basically anything you try to teach) than by the fact that the school board then substantiated this objection (or these objections; apparently there were three parental complaints) on the grounds that the school should have notified parents before teaching this "controversial topic" –– Michelangelo???? in a discussion of Renaissance art?????? are you out of your entire mind????? –– "and picture."

The "and picture" bit I cannot resist attacking on two grounds. First: The David, in case your high school art teacher was afraid to mention this, is in fact a sculpture and not a two-dimensional "picture," although presumably the art teacher was showing flat images of the statue. Second: In the sentence "parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture," the word controversial is positioned to modify both "topic" and "picture" ... and the David is, again, not controversially a piece of art history (I think there has been some dispute over whether the size of his penis reflected some preferences on Michelangelo's part, but that is decidedly "extra-textual" and can be gleaned neither from the sculpture nor from viewing an image thereof).

I feel a need to circle back here, because I keep getting stuck on "controversial topic" –– it's the thing I just can't get past. The topic is Michelangelo?? Or the Renaissance?? Or art itself?????

Per the BBC, the school board pressured the principal to resign as a result of the parental dissatisfaction (I would remind the world, yet again, that education is not customer service), and initially I was sorry to see them knuckle under, but on second thought –– maybe they quit from sheer frustration.

ETA: The Daily Show has weighed in.

Got thoughts?? A favorite Michelangelo piece? Hit the "comment" button and let me know!

1 Comment

Jessica Smith
Jessica Smith
Mar 28, 2023

It's dumb, but not that surprising. The early Renaissance had Girolamo Savonarola. The Victoria & Albert Museum really did cover David's penis with a fig leaf in the 19th century. Amazon Prime recently began requiring a passcode (not the account password) for TV-MA content. There will always be people looking for reasons to feel morally superior.

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