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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. TAK

    I would have expected this type of censorship and pandering to religious groups in Kansas or Alabama. Certainly not NY.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Chrs

      As a Christian and beliver I can tell you. The word Dinosaur does not offend me, the idea that the faith of Christians would be or could be offended so easily is insulting.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  2. Bill

    What the heck do you expect from New Yorkers? Dumb as the folks in Texas!!...and I live in Texas.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • matt houston

      You are a good example of what you profess about Texas. You're a Texan and you think you are dumb along with the rest of the population? Then you are dumb.

      There are many smart and logical folks living in Texas who see through the absurdities of an "intelligent designer – ie. GOD". If there were such a thing, that designer either doesn't know what it's doing or it's a very very evil designer that enjoys inflicting suffering on babies with deformities, retardation, humans with horrible diseases caused by other "designs" which it created.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  3. Kate

    It sounds like we've lost all sense of reason, with this latest example of kowtowing to bloody religious nonsense. Why not also ban "marinara sauce" since it may offend followers of the spaghetti monster? Welcome to the dawning of the new Dark Ages.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Butch

      Here! here!. I agree 100%.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  4. Dennis

    I am offended – the writer of the article consulted with Mr. Wineburg. His name offends me both as a christian and recovering alcoholic. Not really, but it is just as stupid.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  5. Nobody N. Particular

    No one has the right to "Not be offended", this is just more political correctness that should not be tolerated in a free society. Do you think this children won't be exposed to these words? Seriously, are we so fearful of ideas that we are willing to ban words that are related to them? This marks the beginning of the end of the United States, we will need Big Brother to protect us from those bad ideas and we will give up our rights to empower him to do so. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, "A man who is willing to sacrifice his liberty for safety will get neither (or deserves neither)"

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Chrs

      Well put...

      March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  6. History Bear

    Words are experssions of thought and without words thoughts cannot be formed. Banning any but vulgar words (which the kids all know even when they don't know anything else) is banning thought and speech. No wonder this country is going down hill at an excellerating rate.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  7. basketcase

    Seems to me that whoever came up with these lists should watch Steve Hughes' bit on being offended. I think he sums things up fairly well.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  8. Rev.Christie Bliss Ley

    This is just plain stupid. There will always be words that upset some people. Stop catering to such prejudices.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  9. Kerry

    Just because a small, vociferous, minority of religious fundamentalists desire to impose their ignorance of evolution on the rest of society, we should not be politicly correct and ban words such as Dinosaurs. These people need to understand that their narrow vision of the world is not what the majority of Americans approve of or accept as fact. The fact that an education department has decided to ban a number of potentially charged words is completely ludicrous. It doesn't solve a fundamental problem, it makes matters worse as our kids do worse and worse on international education examinations and find themselves ill prepared for university. We need to take back education from these religious-nazis once and for all.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Mike

      If anything, I find it offensive that they think I'd be offended by Dinosaurs despite my belief that Evolution does not explain the origin of life so much as the processes which govern its development. Or, even more to the point, that they should remove "offensive" words from tests. I've never been so distracted by a test question, "offensive" or not, that I couldn't answer it. If Dinosaurs is all it took to offend me, I wouldn't have had a 99% average on every biology test I've ever taken.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  10. Stop the PC Insanity

    "We've learned not to fear words." ~ Star Trek's Lt. Uhura to Abraham Lincoln after he apologized for referring to her as a "charming Negress." That future can't get here fast enough.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Bill

      That future will NEVER arrive in the United States!!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  11. David James

    I guess you have to be oversensitive in order to live in NYC....

    March 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  12. Chris

    The word "education" should also be banned...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  13. sam

    What is this, I can't even...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  14. Lars

    I've got an idea- why don't we teach people (and children) to stop being so stigmatized by anything that runs counter to their beliefs? The idea that we can communicate and educate without occasionally rubbing some group the wrong way is insane. When these issues come up they should be used as a way to discuss the differences between beliefs and not as an excuse to slowly filter away every controversial word, thought or idea until we can teach nothing and learn nothing. Really? Dinosaur? Birthday?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  15. tryscience

    I am a NYC science teacher (grades 3,4,5). I talk about dinosaurs. I talk about the ages of the Earth and the Universe, black holes, the big bang, how our Sun will die and become a white dwarf, etc. So far, no one has objected. This is not the Bible belt. But if some one does, tough. I teach science and keep up with the current, prevailing theories. Sometimes I am shocked, and then ashamed, and then saddened at the kowtowing of our educational (and judicial) systems at the behest of ignorant and blind religious fundamentalists when it comes to science. We must keep their beliefs out of our classrooms.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • ScienceLoverToo

      I too have made my profession in science. I am also a Christian and beleive that these two creation views are not incompatable. There is clear fossil evidence of dinosaurs and homid evolution...in my mind evidence of intelligent design. I once had a friend who suggested that dinosaurs were on Noah's Arc...that's not supported by the fossil record since dinos died 65 million years before humans were, but isn't that part of what education is about? If it is Genesis, "the world was greated in 6 days" that is forcing the two worlds dicotomy consider the possiblity that like other biblical stories, it is metaphorical. Teach to the evidence!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  16. wonkguy

    I hope the New York City (where I live) get's some sense quickly and abandons this idiotic idea.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  17. pooh2

    banned words: communism

    March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  18. Bart

    How about banning the words science, reason, knowledge or education. Sorry, this is America and it is a society of many different beliefs. People just have to be tolerant and know that in such a society, one with free speech, that sometimes you are going to hear things that make you uncomfortable. The few should not be able to kill education. This is silly.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  19. Pliny

    The NYC Dept of Education is filled with politically correct cowards.

    These people are the product of nepotism and political cronyism.

    They should be removed from their jobs. Have their pensions and benefits stripped from them. And be forbidden from ever working in the public sector again.

    And then....the tar and feathers.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  20. Anorexic

    The word Food offends me.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 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.