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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. BlueWhale

    Banning words is the same as banning thought.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Evil_Atheist

      That's exactly what people of faith have been trying to do for thousands of years (for as long as the gods we created in our own image have been around).

      March 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Chris

      @ Evil_Atheist... this list doesn't exist only because of the far right. This list was created by politicians looking to avoid political battles with both the right AND the left...it also bans religious words. Unfortunately, extreme politics ruins it for the vast majority in this country that believes in both some form of evolution AND religion.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • toni

      Yes! Yes! You get it. Banning thought! That way they can control. Without that control we would be banded together instead of being seperate as they like. That way we are against each other, and we don't pay attention to what they are doing. Its been happening for centuries and amazes me that we are still taking the crap.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  2. Scott

    Maybe we should worry about TEACHING OUR STUDENTS, INSTEAD OF TRYING NOT TO OFFEND THEM!!!!!!!!! Remember that, teachers? The reason why you guys exist??? To TEACH the students, not try to avoid hurting their feelings...

    March 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • toni

      unfortunately if a teacher teaches ,at a school that collects federal or state funding, they can only tecah what they are told to teach. Its a real sad situation for teachers these days.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  3. me

    You all can fight about that silliness till the cows come home. But if we don't get better at math and science – like WAY better – we are done. DONE.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • toni

      They keep ignoring the facts about the falling behind in the education of our people. They don't want us to be educated because we are americans (being free in actions and movement), and our government fears us. They would panic if we were all given a good education. This is also part of raising the standard of living in the developing countries around the world by lowering our standard of living. If they keep generation after generation stupid then they are in REALLY in control, and we are left struggling.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  4. Bob Buchanan

    Earth being 6,000 years old ......... How ignorant can fundamentalists be. This political correctness junk has gone way to far. Keeping the word dinosaur out of text books because it may offend is ridiculous. A garbage man by any other name is still a garbage man.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Andrew

      Considering they think 'radiometric dating isn't 100% accurate, thus it is usually 5 orders of magnitude wrong' (like saying 'we can't perfectly measure the distance from new york to san fran, but it's certainly less than one foot!) they really do like their ignorance.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  5. AJR

    This is actually unbelievable. One of the most ridiculous notions ever. These type of actions promote ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • NEnurse

      Promote, encourage, instill, allow, embed, TEACH. A sad state of affairs we are in.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  6. Observer516

    Consider a real relationship with God and dump your man-made religions (and I mean all of them). Even Jesus Christ pleaded for this (The Gospel According to Matthew). Then you will see that no word is "off-limits", no wars can serve God, and Science is just a way of observing the God-given universe around us. Try focusing on Christ's words before you claim to be "born again", a "fundamentalist", the "moral majority", or better than any other human being. And do your own thinking and reading. Don't have a pastor do your thinking for you. It takes you to have your own relationship with God. Not a building, congregation, pastor or anything else. Once you can relate to God on your own, then consider "judging" what the rest of society should do!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  7. Wow

    They should ban the word intelligence because stupid people might be offended.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  8. Johm

    If I ever sub a class, I will fit every one of these words into a quiz for that day.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • OOOOOMMMMMMGGGGG

      Yep. Let every kid who fails show the quiz to their parents to sign. Then they can see what it looks like when their kid couldn't answer the question, "If Sally has a (birthday) party and there are 2 (pepperoni) pizzas cut into 16 pieces...blah blah blah," because they were completely stumped by the words birthday and pepperoni. This article was truly frightening.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  9. Peter

    A great example of how once again the extreme left and the extreme right are pi$$ing off the silent majoirty or moderate normal people...

    March 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • OOOOOMMMMMMGGGGG

      Pi$$ing off the rational, reasonable majority.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  10. Sarcasmo

    Researchers Determine That Religion is the Cause of All of the World's Problems; Leading Source of Embarrassing Idiocy and Intellectual Retardation.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  11. Evil_Atheist

    This is ludicrous ... why don't we just ban fractions? Who knows which religious group they could offend. Or why don't we ban learning about magnetism in science class, since Mormons don't know how they work? As long as we keep allowing religion to push and shove intelligence, reasoning, and enlightenment to the back of the bus, we will remain little better than our ape ancestors, only instead of flinging our own faeces and poking pebbles up our noses, we will continue to turn a blind eye towards truth.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • Dale Schladetsch

      FYI. The Catholic Church was the first in creating schools in this country to educate the young who were to become the next generation and so on, because the government felt it did not have to, nor was willing to. Yes, it is true.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Chris

      This list didn't come about just to avoid offending the religious...if you note, it also bans many religious terms as well...it's an attempt to keep the right AND the left happy...at the expense of us in the middle.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things..

    March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • gihaddd

      hahaha! you keep believing that. last time I checked praying didnt stop the bullet that killed Trayvon, or the 14 killed i afghanistan, or the thousands dying of famine in Africa.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • toni

      keep your preaching to yourself, and stick to the subject.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • gihaddd

      And btw Atheism isn't a fruit. The only thing that comes from religion is the hatred of other religions

      March 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • Jesus

      Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.! ....

      March 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  13. Paul

    They might want to ban the word IDIOT, as this might evoke some negative reaction, as in the Department of Ed. in New York City is full of IDIOTs. Now we would not want to offend any of them....

    March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  14. SPW

    The same education should be brought forth to all children, it should teach the basics of all Religion and then go into evolution and science. There is no misinterpretation of any religion, it will be straight up educational and will let all demographics learn about eachother's backgrounds in a room of learning. We shouldn't have to cut anything from our center of learning, we should only expand to deliver the knowledge of each religion. IF fundamentalist want to teach out of the Bible, they better save room for the Quran and every other religious book out there.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • toni

      I agree with you on teaching all the religions, and teaching just the facts about that religion as you would any other class. They won't allow that though, because it would foster a better understanding of each other, and that threatens them. Divide and conquer is thier rule.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  15. The Pope

    Makes perfect sense to me. Everybody knows dinosaurs gave humans free rides 6000 years ago and they're very sensitive creatures!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  16. toni

    They have been turning our population into wimps for decades now. This is just another way of "not hurting our feelings", so we can't deal with the facts when we graduate, and join the world. That way they have to take care of us. OH", I am so upset at those words that I can almost see the violins! Same S#!T different day!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  17. gihaddd

    A childhood without dinosaurs just isn't a childhood at all.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  18. odin

    didn't you know that the earth is flat!!! if you sail to the end of the ocean you'll fall off (sarcasm).

    March 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
    • WhatNow

      And we wonder why we are falling behind the rest of the world in_____(fill in almost anything).

      March 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  19. WhatNow

    This has to be a joke. How do you offend someone with factual information? We have actual evidence of dinosaurs and when they occurred.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  20. Ray Patterson

    This deference to ignorance due to religious beliefs is appalling. Can you imagine how difficult it was to make progress when the catholic church held sway? I have a renewed respect for those enlightenment thinkers. Each had a brass pair!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:57 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.