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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. Suzanne

    I was raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses & did not celebrate birthdays nor any holidays. While appreciate the NY school systems effort to shield kids from unnecessary trauma, I cannot imagine a JW being distracted or offended by the word 'birthday' appearing on a test.

    'Divorce' might be a good word to avoid as that could trigger some emotions in a young child going through such a family crisis.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  2. Anomic Office Drone

    We really shouldn't be trying to dumb down reality so that religious people can feel better.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  3. Curmdugeon10

    Next: ban on numbers in Math texts.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  4. Frankhy

    What is this? Iran? The groveling in the US before the religious fundamentalists of all flavours seem to know no bounds these days. Everything is an "Insult" to someone's "faith". Oversensitive bigots FTL... If we cannot have a public discourse describing the reality for fear of offending some relgious fringe wackos, then it is time to reclaim secularism on the public realm.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  5. me

    Liberal Vomit!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  6. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    If the fundamentalists manage to get the desire to kill non-believers enough, we should make accommodations for this request as well. When they demand we initiate the crusades on nations with a predominant religion that does not vow allegiance to their Master, we should let them right ahead! After many idiots fail to understand that causality does not equate to correlation, and links nearly all drugs to cancer, we should give in!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. Deann

    We are becoming way to "PC" and it is going to be the death of this democracy. This is just getting to be pathetic. I am continually embarrassed at what lengths this country will go to in order to make sure we don't offend anyone. Banned words?!?!? What is it that schools will be able to teach after all is said and done? No wonder we are falling behind the rest of the world educationally.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Doc's Wife

      Amen.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Mike D

      This whole article sums up what is wrong with this country.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  8. Mike Williams

    Oh, Puhleeeeeeeese!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  9. Doc's Wife

    Oh for Pete's sake...this is silly. Rent the movie "Idiocracy" and you'll get an idea where all this dumbing down will take us...the movie is stupid, but so apparently are Americans.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  10. astonished european reader of this article

    I got it ! in fact, USA are spreading new guide for rising children :

    1° first, hit them, often and hard, as said in this what's-his-name-religious-guy book (which is killing american childs but who cares, it's religious so impossible to fight and forbid because it could offend those believers)
    2° Then, if childs did not die, teach them only a few words. Only the ones that don't hurt your religious dogmas.
    3° Burn all books, close all schools.
    4° Then, teach them that you can have as much guns you wish, and use them the way you like. Then, teach them that all the others are ennemies.

    When this will be achieved, this so nice and kind and flowerful new country will replace the ancient United States of America, which should quickly be forgotten because never spoke about neither only mentioned anywhere.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  11. IceT

    Religious indoctrination of children from birth is a form of child abuse. To enhance the wonderment of childhood we give our children Santa, Easter bunny & the Tooth fairy and reveal the truth when a child matures and logically questions them. Logical deduction prevents them from continuing to believe on their own, but yet are forced to continue a belief in God out of their parents own indoctrinated fears.
    That's what is under attack here, the logical reasoning ability to face reality.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  12. irunner

    'm feeding my dinosaur halloween candy and pepperoni on his birthday. RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  13. Pat

    I'm appalled that someone has suggested that the word dinosaur be banned from schools. Dinosaurs existed, we have the fossils. Dinosaurs did not exist along side humans. We know this. We cannot continually bow to the hysterics of the creationists and others who would rewrite proven history. It's no wonder that our schools are failing miserably compared to other countries.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
  14. M. Hans

    It is no wonder the US ranks 26th amongst industrialized nations in science education. I guarantee the leading nations do not block Dinosaur. What an embarrassing time to be an American.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  15. winstonsmith

    I think we should ban education, it offends my "ignorance" policy and damn it I have the right to be ignorant, this is America after all!!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Rob

      Yes, America has more ignorant people than anywhere else. The problem is they are too stupid to realize how ignorant they are.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  16. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    Christianity impedes progress in many spheres...

    March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  17. nofoldems

    So we're going to stop educating our children because a few facts offend fundamentalists?

    March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • NotYourGrandmasUSA

      If the article is read carefully, you can see that it is not just about 'fundamentalist' views on religion. It is about the absurd notion that if we trigger any unhappy thoughts or feelings it impedes learning for students. I liked what Dr. Wineburg had to say. I believe he hit the nail on the head....

      March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  18. esoteric1

    interesting that they are banning a word that indeed describes what a creationist is

    March 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  19. esoteric1

    this can't be true

    March 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  20. Cold Liberal

    Here's my suggestion for worlds that should terrorize these children: jobless, homeless, poor, dumb, unemployable. Just pathetic

    March 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • itylhive

      Actually 'loss of employment,"homelessness,"poverty,'mental deficiency' are on the list of banned topics.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
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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.