The story goes that Michaelangelo was walking along the streets of Rome when he was
approached by an admirer. "Michaelangelo," said the admirer, "your statue, David, is so
beautiful! It is so perfect and awe inspiring. What skill you must have! How do you imagine, how do you create, something as wonderful as David?"
The artist stopped, and pondered for a moment.
"It is easy," he replied. “First you get a piece of marble, and you look at it very carefully, examining it from all sides. Then, very gently, you chip away all the parts that are not David."
Parents and teachers have a daunting task: They, like Michaelangelo, must find the work
of art inside their children and must carefully strive to reveal it. They must examine from all sides, trying hard to see patterns and then connect those patterns to the world so that we can understand and appreciate them. They use their skills to shape, as gently as possible, the potential that is inherent in each individual.
Plato described education as "drawing the soul from becoming to being." The task of educators, including parents, is to help that inner work of art come into view. We may not always agree about how to do this – we may differ in what we believe is important to the work of art. We may use different tools, and we may not all be equally skilled – not all of us are Michaelangelo, and we need to keep practicing our craft. But there are certain things that seem to us to be true.
First, we believe that there is a work of art hidden in every child. We do not believe that
valuable blocks of marble (and valuable children) should be discarded simply because the outline is not immediately clear or the process of revealing the art is difficult. Some of the most beautiful and impressive pieces may be hidden or harder to reveal. Our job is not to find a completed work and dust it off – sometimes we actually have to use skill, patience and artistry to reveal the masterpiece.
Second, we believe that every great masterpiece is different. We cannot make David out
of every marble block – sometimes, the marble block holds The Pieta. In trying to shape all
pieces in the same way, with the same end result in mind, we not only create an inferior copy but we miss revealing the true masterpiece inside. Sometimes, when we try to shape everyone in the same way, the block of marble simply crumbles and we are left with a mess.
Third, it is impossible to find David if one simply does not have time to get to know the
marble. When teachers have too many students, they cannot know the students well enough to see what is inside, and when that happens the teachers can only try to impose their own vision of what they think might be a good statue... with results that, even if they worked, would be limited and mediocre.
And fourth, we believe that it is important to have a humble appreciation of the damage
that can be done with a heavy or hasty chisel, an understanding that we can damage the work of art if we are not careful, cautious and respectful.
We know that there is a balance between revealing what we want to see and harming or missing what is already there. The task is not easy. But many of us are passionate about being parents and teachers because there is no greater feeling than finding David. It is surprising, awe-inspiring, meaningful and deeply satisfying. The works of art are far greater and more complex than our own imaginations could ever have created, and we are often stunned at the beauty of the finished piece.
If our humble hands have helped the piece emerge, we are even more appreciative as we watch it stand alone.