Horace Mann history teacher's novel raises hackles

Historians in the News

A furor has erupted at a New York City private high school over a history teacher’s satirical novel, his impending departure and, now, accusations that administrators barred the student newspaper from publishing a letter by prominent historians and scholars who had come to the teacher’s defense.

The controversy, which has divided teachers, parents and students at the Horace Mann School, a private school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, erupted this week.

The Record, the student newspaper, published an editors’ note on Wednesday stating that the head of the school, Thomas M. Kelly, had forbidden the editors from publishing two letters and an opinion essay concerning the case of the history teacher, Andrew S. Trees.

Dr. Kelly did not respond to telephone messages left at his office late yesterday, and Dr. Trees did not respond to messages left at his home and with his parents.

Dr. Trees had published a novel last year, “Academy X,” that poked fun at the mores and foibles of affluent children and their overbearing parents at a fictional elite school. His narrator, a teacher named John Spencer, calls the school an “ethical wonderland” and laments the antics of Caitlyn Brie, a pampered student at the school.

(Reviewing the novel in The New York Times last year, Michiko Kakutani wrote, “In the early pages of this novel Mr. Trees demonstrates inklings of a Kingsley Amis-like ability to extract humor from the travails of his hapless hero, but any hopes that the book might become a ‘Lucky Jim’-ish romp are soon squashed by his preposterous plot and John’s tedious class rage at Caitlyn’s parents and their ilk.”)

Dr. Trees’s annual contract to teach at the school was not renewed for the next school year, prompting an outcry from some teachers and students.

In a letter to the student newspaper last week, a fellow history teacher, Peter P. Sheehy, wrote that the novel “has angered some because the themes and issues he explores correspond very closely to issues with which we struggle.” While some believe “the novel reflects poor taste,” he added, “such critiques do not warrant the punishment of an author or artist who says something unpopular or controversial.”

Last week, according to The Record, some 150 students signed a petition in defense of Dr. Trees...
Read entire article at NYT

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