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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. Jack 63

    Aw let's not offend our children by making them learn hard words. It is terrible that their poor little minds should be so stressed by actually learning. Now Timmy we do say Christmas and Easter in church but you must not ever say them in public because you may offend Suki, Hadj, and Joel and we might get sued! What a pile of crap!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  2. Adnan

    I am religious, but this is nonsense... where are going with this – stop all communications? Just live in fear, right? Open up people – communicating is the only way to over prejudice and dogmas. We all live in this planet and at times in close proximity. We have to hear and respond like humans, not animals or angels.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  3. tom

    Additionally, we are pleased to announce the removal to the colors black, brown, white, and yellow from the color wheel due to their racial undertones.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  4. pocaagua

    So, they should also ban "brocolli" and "chores" because it might offend kids that don't believe in eating brocolli and doing chores.

    No matter what you ban and don't ban, something will offend someone. Too bad. That's life, and banning words isn't going to ever change that. And if you make a "make-believe" world where these kids aren't exposed to any disagreement, then they'll go into the real world as idiots.

    Great job!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  5. crabman

    what the #ell is wrong with this country ?? are we really banning words ?? this is wrong this just wrong -- as a country we are screwed -- anyone one that dose not see that is all ready brainwashed

    March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  6. Furseal

    I wonder if it has occured to these brainiacs the the words 'education' and 'school' probably create disturbing emotions in many of the children (and their parents) as well. Perhaps NY should ban those words as well!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  7. John

    Birds are dinosaurs. They are in the vertebrate clade that includes veliciraptors and T. rex. So let's ban birds, too. Start making sense!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  8. Dude

    Go ahead and add Diploma and Graduation in the list.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  9. momoya

    Teachers have the freed.om to use these words in their teaching; the is.s.ue is over using the words in a STANDARDIZED test.. If we know that certain words might increase testing anxiety for some students (slave/pro.sti.tute/etc) then it makes sense to avoid them on STANDARDIZED tests.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  10. haegeler

    I mean, Spanish is becoming increasingly prevalent in this country. Why don't we just ban the use of English in schools? Using English is just offensive and unfair to Hispanic people, so we should just outlaw it.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  11. Dan

    Am I glad I moved out of NYC. This has got to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. I'll bet there is not a single word that does not offend someone. I'm sure there are stagnationists who will want all transitive verbs banned next. Or maybe those who are inarticulate will want all articles stricken from the list. (Oh, excuse me for using an article)

    March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  12. outlander

    we need a federally appointed committee to perform a study on offensive words and their effects on school children. $1 billion tax payer dollars to start with.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  13. Sal

    I am offended by politicians and religion! 

    March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  14. TR6

    We might just as well elect Santorum too

    March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  15. Sal

    This country has gone insane! All this political correctness stuff is destroying this country! 

    March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  16. TDJ

    Drats. The PC dinosaurs are at it again. When will they ever become extinct?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  17. Jason

    How stupid. These people make decisions about our childrens education? SAD SAD situation.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  18. rjb22

    the soft headed religious are intentionally making our children dumber

    March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • J.

      Seriously...What about you atheists and Christmas? Christmas is an American holiday as well...but this whole list is just stupid.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  19. jmac

    What a bunch of B.S. I thought I had heard it all. But this takes the cake. I am quite sure the kids have heard worse in they're own homes or walking to school in the morning

    March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  20. ATPMSD

    I am offended by the whole concept! :-)

    March 29, 2012 at 11:24 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.