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New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
"Dinosaur" is among the words New York CIty is looking to ban from tests, apparently over concerns it could bother creationists.
March 28th, 2012
07:19 PM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

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."

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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.

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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.

Piers Morgan's "Only in America": 50 banned words

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Education

soundoff (3,780 Responses)
  1. dino

    Well, yeah, even creationists can't deny the existence of all the piles of bones dug out of the earth. So they make up some crap about how they fit in with their whacky beliefs. That's the beauty of religion – no accountable to rationality, unless it's literally right there in front of you in a heap of bones.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  2. Archer

    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."

    ..... I rest my case your honor..

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  3. Starman

    Conservtive. Please ban if from all forms of communication. It conjures up horrid images of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh and Backdoor Billy. Enough torture through misapplication of the language. Please eliminate it now.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Alex

      Best idea I've heard today!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Hamlet

      When you can't spell, it kind of takes the sting out of your post.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • rt

      Sounds great, now just get rid of the word liberal so the images of Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Barney Frank can go away. A nation with no extremists on either side. Definitely fantasy land.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • basketcase

      @hamlet- Oh no, the world is going to end because he left out an "a."

      March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  4. Zagnuts

    This country is for sure going to hell. Fear of everything will be our great undoing.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  5. lloyd roberts

    In states where creationism is taught, those young people are never going to compete with Asian or European students in biology or chemistry and so on. So the best those students from those states can hope for in the job market when they graduate is to memorize the phrase, "good afternoon. welcome to Wal-Mart". Cause that's where they're going to work

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  6. Brook

    At this point in our history don't you think we would have moved beyond this desire to ban things from our schools just on the off chance that they might offend some one? While we are at it lets start censoring history books because the killing of Jews during WWII might offend certain people or the idea that slaves were owned before the Civil War or that many US presidents either owned slaves or thought it was a nonissue. I mean really...as a country are we trying to take steps backwards insteard of forward with how we are education our students?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  7. Guerrina

    Pretty soon we'll be back to burning books....sad.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  8. Barry

    That's embarrassing. It demonstrates a complete lack of judgement upon the department of education's part. They are overreacting to a sadly misguided legal call. Science is not a religion, it is a measurable and proven fact. While I understand the need to keep certain subjects out of the curriculum, anthropology and science included into this "sensitive" category is absolutely wrong.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Barry

      I might add that this direction from the NYC Department of Education makes the State of Texas Education system look progressive.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  9. Brad

    Killa....that was for you

    March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  10. wabisabi927

    It sounds to me that people with too much money are bored. So they think of things to do to make it look like they're working....like pick words that might offend people. It's part of emotional health to learn how to deal with being offended. We can't coddle everyone all the time. This is why there are so many forms of anxiety and emotional problems developing, and it's why money is being wasted on people discussing topics like this.

    The words aren't causing the anxiety, the standardized tests are. Until we find a new way to test, the kids will always feel uneasy. And I'm saying that as an elementary school teacher. I had a child break down crying in the middle of PSSA's. Standardized testing doesn't work. Not all children can be evaluated the same way.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  11. Brad

    Then why are you on the "Belief" page?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Digitalclips

      Well I am on this page because of a link about dinosaurs from the front page. Dinosaurs, along with all things related to evollution of life on Earth have always fascinated me. I am non religious, so you are saying I shouldn'tread this article?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  12. ahhh h

    in the meantime NY is getting all time lows on testing but lets worry about theres words. being P.C. is ruining us

    March 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  13. Pattigee

    If given enough time, every word in the dictionary could be uncomfortable with someone, somewhere. It is so ridiculous to try to please everyone......and in the real world, it is not possible.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  14. Charles

    Thank goodness our kids dont have to be smart.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  15. jason

    i expect this kinda stuff from the bible belt but not in NY.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  16. James K.

    The word "school" offends me as most utterly fail at what they've been created to do.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  17. paladin knight

    Somebody, please take these creationists to a natural history museum and show them the fossils of dinosaurs!!!! These people, the creationists, can't be so ignorant, can they??!!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • caw

      eh...unfortunately yes they can.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Response

      Did you read the article at all? It didn't say that creationists don't believe in dinosaurs. Try again.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • JuneCleaversBeaver

      In case you haven't noticed this is a result of the left's" words hurt" agenda. So you've gotten what you wanted.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • LordEarlGray

      Oh, yes they can. The used to call them "sports of the devil" back in the day when Darwin offered up his book and the idea of evolution and they can go on denying the obvious every step of the way. I hope, when they arrive at the Pearly Gates St. Peter might say, "Well, you can come in but you're an idiot for believing in that Creationist nonsense." Perhaps there's a remedial class for people who refuse to see the obvious, the real proof in front of their faces.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • JuneCleaversBeaver

      Also on the list is the word 'computer" as it relates to being located in one's house thus it may signify someone's wealth of affluence......The left's word police and PC is coming to haunt them. Good for you!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • bobby

      let's think about this for a second....We had to give them the definition of "creationists" so they wouldn't be offended by their own ignorance. That should tell you enough.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • dada

      creationist thought our forefathers domesticated the dinos and ended up killing all of them for delicious meat. so they were extinct 😀 😀

      March 30, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  18. Hamlet

    All words offend me, ban them all. Back to the good old days of grunts and moans I say!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Dave

      But grunts and moans offend me..

      March 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Hamlet

      for you we'll have to adopt the G-word and M-Word then. sigh

      March 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  19. Amy

    Wineburg is quite right that the purpose of education is "to draw out". However, at the risk of saying something easily misinterpreted, in the midst of a test is not when education is taking place. At this stage, children are telling you what they have learned, and it's not appropriate to be learning something new at that point in time. By all means, challenge and stimulate controversy and debate while teaching and learning, but assessment should focus on the knowledge, understanding and skills being assessed, and not on distractions. High-stakes tests cannot fairly be challenging learning experiences in their own right, particularly if the challenge singles out a particular group.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • tom

      Really? Don't you think riddles stimulate the brain? Being able to solve problems under at least slight distraction fosters creative problem solving and critical thinking. I can side with removing "divorce" for ages under 16 but the other words are too common to be ignored. What about expanding vocabulary?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Al

      Science teaches kids to base opinions on evidence. I can see why the theocrats are against science.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  20. killallthewhiteman

    Religion offends me. Lets ban that!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Brad

      Then why are you on the "Belief" page killallthewhiteman

      March 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.