News Story

In 2022, School’s Usual Lesson On McCarthyite Political Persecution Causes A Tizzy

A simulated, privacy-invading questionnaire in a class lesson looked all too plausible in current environment

A school class lesson that appears to bear the official letterhead of Grosse Pointe Public Schools has caused an uproar on social media by posing invasive questions to students about their families. The document asked students questions such as what church they went to and who their parents voted for, and why. The document asked if they lived with their parents and if not, why not. The document also asked students if anyone in the family had a criminal record and asked for details of any crimes. 

The school district said the students were not expected to answer any of the questions.

Nikki Snyder, a member of the Michigan State Board of Education, read from the mock letter at the state board meeting and said it gave no indication whether it was part of a school assignment.

According to Snyder, some of the questions were:

Do you live with your parents? If no, with whom do you live? Explain why you do not live with your parents.

Do you attend a church on a regular basis? If yes, write the name of the church. If no, explain why not.

How many bedrooms are in the house in which you live?

Has anybody in your family ever been accused or convicted of a crime? If yes, explain.

Do the adults in your family regularly vote in elections? If yes, which political party, Democrats, Republicans, or other do they usually vote. If no, explain why they do not vote regularly.

The school district said a student took a photo of the questions, given as part of an assignment, and posted it on social media with no context.

Grosse Pointe Public Schools released a statement about the document. It read in part, “This simulation was meant to demonstrate McCarthyism. This was explained to students moments after the official looking document was handed out, in our letter to parents, and in our Superintendent’s comments at the televised board meeting that evening. … No data was collected, and to be doubly safe all forms were shredded immediately. This is a powerful lesson teachers have used for years.”

On April 11, the district sent a letter to parents about the assignment.

“The teachers designed this exercise several years ago. This is the first time we have experienced an issue with it,” the district stated. “While we apologize for any misunderstanding or apprehension it may have caused, we support our teachers’ ability to create lessons that resonate with our students and have a lasting impact. There was no harm done with this exercise and certainly none intended.”

The term McCarthyism refers to the practice in the 1950s when government officials accused some citizens of being Communists and disloyal to the United States, usually with little or no evidence. Sometimes, citizens were subjected to unsavory investigations.


Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.