Beauty is truth, truth beauty, is this all we need to know?

There is an afternoon which has remained impressed in my mind. I was a young and quite unexperienced teacher and the following day I was to start to work at a school where the majority of the students came from disadvantaged areas often with difficult situations. That afternoon I was suggested to attend a parent / teacher conference which was scheduled for some issues concerning discipline, so that I could have been promptly informed about that class situation, before meeting the boys, well, rather than boys, it would have been more correct to say men, as the average age of  that class, the equivalent of a twelfth grade, was 18/19.

As I was sitting in a corner of that classroom, listening to a list of some of the most bewildering life school episodes I had ever heard and wondering whether I would have ever been able to elaborate the weapons to face such a reality, my attention was captured by the innumerable drawings I could see on the walls. Those students seemed to have developed the most extraordinary talent for sketching human body, male sex organs in particular. There were at least one hundred of them, of course, of different colors, sizes and even styles, I dare say. There was one in particular, a huge one, I guess the father of them all, which stretched along the entire class, wall after wall, and majestically ended right on the class register. As I closely inspected the classroom, I could see only dirt and degradation. Many of the desks were half-broken and the blackboard chipped, but nobody seemed to notice it. They were blind and perfectly at ease, but I was not. Those drawings were the unheard voices of those students’ contempt.

Then I couldn’t help but wonder: would they have been equally destructive if their school had been more clean, organized, modern and why not, beautiful? Would they have dared take their markers and besmirch the walls again or not? Maybe they wouldn’t, if they had been taught to love and respect beauty and of course, placed in a more decent context. If beauty were a subject taught in school, we would form generations of adolescents who not only would appreciate the esthetic value of things but also their hidden ethical message. Yes, ethical, because once you have understood the importance beauty and make it a value of your life, it would be intolerable, for example, to see the dirt and the holes in the streets of your town or the beautiful coasts of your country disfigured by urbanization abuses. Your sense of beauty would not allow you to be indifferent and you would instinctively do something against all this.

Peppino Impastato, a young man and journalist from Sicily, was murdered at the age of thirty after having spent his short life to fight the mafia. He had tried to awake the consciences of the people he knew in order they could find the strength to get rid of their cowardice and that conspiracy of silence which lies in the roots of their culture. But it was in vain. Peppino understood how the love and respect of beauty would have been essential in his cultural context, that is why he wrote once :”if people were taught beauty, they would be given a weapon against resignation, fear and conspiracy of silence“.  A new “conspiracy of beauty” should come to life, hence, nobody would be left alone to fight the wrongs of any society.

The following day I met the boys of that class. They were only twelve, but when they were all in, I can tell you, they seemed a crowd to me.

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25 thoughts on “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, is this all we need to know?

    • Hi Sue, I see you are back from your South African wanderings. Really amazing adventure. For what concerns the post, these are the kind of students you will never forget, you can’t. Such experience has been very tiring, but enormously rewarding and after seventeen years those twelve scoundrels are still in my heart, even if they would never believe it. 😜😘🙋

      • There are situations in life that never leave us. What a powerful one this was.

        Yes back and adjusting from adventure overdrive to daily living. 🙂

  1. What a great idea. Unfortunately the educational bureaucrats probably would see it differently. Which leaves only one choice for us. To be witnesses to the beauty around us and to see beauty where others see ugliness.

  2. As the mother of four sons, I have seen the inattention given to their expression, pain and adolescent emotional challenges. They have growing pains too and are told to toughen up or ignore their emotions. It turns into rage or self destruction all too often. Sadly, I see it now being done to young girls as well. The bullying in public schools is mortifying. My children suffer a sense of aloneness in this world because of how they see things what they know to be true. But they do know and appreciate beauty. So few people truly understand the full scope of parenting anymore. They think money will solve everything, the wealthy and poor alike. Schools in the US keep chopping arts programs and social interaction classes, and they push digital communications, Professional careers and sports. We are not progressing at all. They are creating robots.

    • As a teacher I am a witness of what you have written, nowadays really fewer and fewer people seem to be aware of the scope of parenting and barter love, care, attention with money and things, let alone what’s going on in the school system.

  3. What a great idea to teach beauty. The Broken Windows theory broadly states that if a building has a broken window that remains un-repaired, people will be more likely to break another…similarly if a street has litter on it it is more “inviting” to add more litter to it. Beauty adds a layer of calm to our lives, a sense of order.
    I had somewhat of a similar situation in my first year of teaching high school boys – a class of troubled youth who had no interest in learning – especially not what I was hired to teach them – poetry! In the end, I had them write a lot of their own poems and we studied Bob Dylan’s poetry.
    Your post made me think back to that classroom so many years ago with sweetness – especially since Dylan went on to win the Nobel Prize for literature. 🙂

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