In this week's New Yorker, Los Angeles-based staff writer Caitlin Flanagan ponders the ritual of giving presents to teachers for the holidays. Her vantage point is upper-income L.A. private schools, since she used to teach at Harvard-Westlake and, she writes, California public schools are among "the worst in the nation." The piece is not online, but here is an excerpt from a section about the ritzy Curtis School on Mulholland Drive, where teacher Rachel Davis says it's all about "money, money, money:"
The gift-giving mores in Los Angeles private schools tend to shock out-of-towners...In her first year, [Davis] was presented with a gift of eight hundred dollars from the entire class. She gave two hundred to her assistant teacher and happily kept the rest. In addition to the money, parents gave her other costly gifts: a cashmere Juicy Couture sweatshirt, a watch, a Gucci cosmetic bag.
Flanagan describes elite schools as a new phenomenon here, so parents—many of them Asian immigrants—can be excused for offering gifts (she mentions a gift certificate for a facial at Elizabeth Arden) that would be "vulgarity itself" at established New York institutions. But there are benefits. The college counselor at Campbell Hall (the Valley school where Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen graduated) was given courtside Lakers seats, and when other parents saw him on the Jumbotron, Flanagan says, they "realized that they needed to up the ante when their time came." Her own children, incidentally, attend the Center for Early Education, where the principal refuses gifts.