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An Unparalleled Tale of Chutzpah in Our Time

Andrew Trees has worked as a teacher at Horace Mann, the prestigious New York City private school, for six years. In 2006, he published a novel called Academy X, which a roman a clef about the students, parents, and faculty at a prestigious New York City private school. His conduct over the past two years is an object lesson in the degree to which shamelessness has become a way of life in new-millennium America.

His book was one of five published on exactly the same topic in the same year or so—there was one called Posh, a second called Glamorous Disasters, a third called Admissions, and still another called The Ivy Chronicles. (These other four books differ from Trees’s in that they all seem to be about the Dalton School, a wellspring of literary inspiration from Nora Johnson’s delightful The World of Henry Orient through Louise Fitzhugh’s glorious children’s novel, Harriet the Spy).

The proliferation of rich-kids-in-school books was clearly fallout from the wild success of The Nanny Diaries, after which there was a hungry market to acquire acid-dipped, lightly fictionalized portraits of Manhattan rich people. None of these novels actually sold well, but you can’t blame a publisher for trying. It turns out that adult readers don’t care much about the schooling issues of the well-to-do. A series of novels for teens under the rubric Gossip Girl (now a hit television series) did hit it big, which suggests Trees should have aimed for his students as an audience rather than their parents.

Had Trees’s book sold a fourth as many copies as The Nanny Diaries did, he would have surely high-tailed it out of Horace Mann, giggling all the way. But it didn’t, and he didn’t. Academy X is a fairly pedestrian book (if you want to read one of these, Posh is the best). It aspires to be Lucky Jim, but it’s hard to write Lucky Jim when your sense of humor is banal and when you are motivated primarily by envy of those you are parodying.

His novel having failed to make him rich and famous, Trees decided to stay at Horace Mann, where he earns $75,000 a year. This was not, to put it charitably, an honorable decision. It’s one thing to leave a place of employ and use your unhappy experience as grist for your mill. But it is, I think, unprecedented to try to stay at your place of employ when you have subjected it to ridicule and embarrasssment.

Horace Mann, in effect, said, “You have got to be kidding.” It informed Trees that his services would no longer be required at the end of the academic year.

And now Trees has done something deserving of a parody novel in itself: He is suing Horace Mann for wrongful termination. He claims that the school’s employee handbook basically promised him he could keep his job no matter what, since it says teachers’ contracts will be renewed “provided their performance and the needs of the school warrant continuation of their employment.”

In fact, the needs of the school—which include the privacy of its students, for whom it is in loco parentis—practically require Horace Mann not only to fire Andrew Trees, but to run him out of town on a rail for acting in a fashion injurious not only to it but to everyone associated with it.

The most interesting question here has to do with Trees and his character, to wit: Does he even have one?



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