Fact Check

Adam Hilliker Detention Letter

Supposed teacher's letter home upbraids a student for correcting him in class.

Published Nov 28, 2006

A teacher's letter home upbraids student for correcting him in class.

Many of us, during our time in school, have encountered teachers who made mistakes in class and viewed corrections from students not as opportunities to learn something themselves, but as unwarranted and intolerable challenges to their authority. That was the set-up in a letter posted on the Internet back in May 2006 by someone who claimed it was a missive sent home from his math teacher twelve years earlier:

Putatively written by a teacher (Adam Hilliker) to the mother of one of his students, the letter notifies the parent that her son (Alex) will be serving one hour's detention for "disregarding authority" and demonstrating a "complete lack of respect for his school." The student's transgression? Having corrected a teacher who insisted to his class that a kilometer was longer than a mile. (In fact, a kilometer is only about 62% of a mile.) Although in the text of the letter Mr. Hilliker acknowledges that the student was indeed correct, he maintains that young Alex "would be better off simply accepting my teachings without resistance."

Was this image a scan of a real letter? It offered no contextual clues that would make it verifiable (it wasn't written on school letterhead and made no mention of the school's name or location), and nobody turned up a math teacher in the U.S. named Adam Hilliker. Many readers seized on small details to declare it phony, such as the similarity of the names "Adam Hilliker" and "Adolf Hitler" (perhaps a bit of a stretch) combined with a date of April 20 (Hitler's birthday); the supposedly too-early appearance of smart quotes in a letter dating from 1994, and the seeming lack of visual distortion in portions of the page that appear to be wrinkled.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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