The Florentines made good on their promise to give Hope Carrasquilla a hero’s welcome to the Italian city because that’s how many here view her. They see a woman in faraway Florida having fallen on her sword for a subject Florence feels passionately about. Renaissance art.
The Tallahassee principal was forced to resign earlier this spring after a few parents complained that their sixth-grade children at a classical charter school had seen a little too much. An art teacher showed them pictures of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus which celebrate the human body in its most natural — ie naked — form and one parent even likened the 15th and 16th century masterpieces to pornography.
The Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella was quick to express outrage that anyone could describe these pieces of art as porn and that a school administrator could lose her job over them, so he invited her to the Renaissance city. Carrasquilla took him up on the offer and has spent the last few days enjoying the David, modeled on the Biblical David who fought Goliath, and taking in the sights of Florence.
“This trip has been really wonderful,” Carrasquilla told me in Florence this past weekend. “I was touched by Mayor Nardella asking me to come. It made a difficult situation not quite so difficult, knowing we had something to look forward to. The people of Florence have been gracious and hospitable.”
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The trip was arranged and facilitated by the Friends of Florence, a U.S. non-profit that raises money from people around the world for the restoration of monuments and art and does what it can to promote the rich heritage of the city. They covered Carrasquilla’s flight over and family members, she says, joined her on their own dime, making a bit of limoncello out of their Florida lemons.
She and the head of her school board had differences of opinion on a few matters in the relatively short time she was in post and the art controversy (and what it really boiled down to, she says, was that letters she had wanted to go out to parents giving them a heads-up about what their kids would be seeing in the art class for some reason never got sent) was the last straw. But Carrasquilla says she thinks politics in her politically charged state played a role in her particular story.
“I’m in Tallahassee the capital (of Florida). DeSantis lives there. His children are there, his family is there,” she said alluding to the whole debate around school choice in Florida and the simmering culture wars going on.
She said she believes in school choice and just feels teachers should be able to follow their curriculum once choice is made. Carrasquilla said it is her feeling parents have become somewhat more micro-managing since COVID lockdowns when remote learning brought the entire classroom into people’s homes.
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Carrasquilla said that on top of enjoying the charms of Florence, she has thought a good deal about education on her trip. She and the mayor discussed education and how to keep the history of art alive in the age of high technology.
“He said in education now here in Italy there is less emphasis on teaching art and music… Right now there is emphasis on teaching our children skills. And I was like, this is the same debate we are having in Florida, in our country. Do we teach a certain skill like technology that is the wave of the future? Or do we teach a more liberal arts type education where we open people’s minds, expose them to classics and music and arts and then with that background they can do whatever they want?”
Carrasquilla said that she may have lost her job, but she has gained a voice she never had before with all the attention she has received. And she thinks debate and curiosity sparked in the aftermath of the whole controversy may very well have a positive outcome.
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“What I’ve heard is more people, more children are looking up what is going on. All of a sudden they are like, ‘What is Renaissance art?‘ Great! Please go study Renaissance art! People are looking up ‘classical education’. If I can raise awareness, then I’m okay with what happened to me.”