March 28th, 2012
07:19 PM ET
By Brian Vitagliano, CNN
New York (CNN) – Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.
The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.
The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.
In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."
Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said this is the fifth year they have created such a list. He said such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."
"Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”
But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs.
Young Earth creationists, or Biblical creationists as they prefer to be called, often point to dinosaurs in making their arguments. They say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory.
At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the heart of the Young Earth Creationism movement, dinosaur models and exhibits fill the museum displays and gift shop.
Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were avoided because of faith-based concerns.
For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word "birthday."
The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, which has left many to speculate and draw their own conclusions.
Halloween may suggest paganism; divorce may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family. One phrase that may surprise many, the term "Rock 'n' Roll" was on the "avoid" list.
And not good news for Italians: the Department of Education also advised avoiding references to types of food, such as pepperoni, products they said "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in."
The Department of Education said, "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."
Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg is an expert in the field of education and director of the Stanford History Education Group.
When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, "the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. ... The Latin meaning if education is 'to go out.' Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside."
Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to "shield kids from these types of encounters." He said the goal of education is to "prepare them," adding "this is how we dumb down public schools."
CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.