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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. Michael

    Jehovah's Witnesses don't have birthdays? What do they tell their kids when they ask where babys come from? They were hatched from Stork eggs?

    March 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Dan

      Hey now I know how to keep the Jehovah Witnesses away from my front door. Just put some 'Happy Birthday' balloons out year round. That should keep them away. lol

      March 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  2. Palustris

    Sam Wineburg said it right. What the heck is wrong with people nowadays with being so politically correct?!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  3. John

    This is quite amazing! This is the first time that I have seen that ALL the comments to this CNN story in agreement! That has to be a record!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  4. strangedays

    WOW... The Amercian Taliban are alive and well. [Sarcasm starts] Kids don't need education to get them all confused with facts, truths and challenging ideas... Informed minds are evil minds... We want kids to learn their parents view of the world and no one elses. Schools are a necessary babysitter while parents work but they should ensure they don't influence my child. [Sarcasm ends]

    March 29, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  5. Morgan

    Christ on a crotch rocket! Can we get past this whole PC nonsense already? Dinosaurs existed. Many cultures celebrate birthdays. Hurricanes happen, and people get divorced. Let's STOP with this ridiculous, namby-pambiness that's come to define the public sphere (and this is coming from a left-centered soul).

    March 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Tom

      I agree, they have lost their minds, and we are the laughingstock,of the world with all this pc crap.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  6. SergioD

    Meow this is funny. Im not surprised. We try so hard not to offend everyone and their mother, and dilute our selfs to thinking we are doing the right thing. Its funny that we look like idiots when we over do it. Meow thats funny...........meow!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  7. John

    Only in Mississippi .... Hey, wait a minute...New York City!?!

    I wonder if they considered banning the word "brain" so as to avoid offending themselves...since they are obviously brainless.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Dan

      lol!! Yeah all of this got old in the '90s and now we're in a new century and here we go again...

      March 29, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  8. information

    Just another example of the dumbing down of America.
    Soon USA will be the dumbest nation on the planet.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  9. wotisit

    The Divorced Dinosaur celebrates her Birthday on Halloween eating Pepperoni Pizza while watching a Christmas Show on the Television.

    You're in big trouble with your test scores junior!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Good thing she wasn't thinking about computer s3x.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  10. billybob

    Kids need to learn more about other cultures, not ignore them... that is why you got people running around blowing others up.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Dan

      Exactly!! We should be embracing the fact that we, as Americans, are all different. We are a collage of cultures and beliefs. Rather than banning the words, they should be looking for creative questions that use them in a context that is educational. But, no, it's easier in this country just to make something illegal than it is to discuss it...

      March 29, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. tiger7970

    OMG, this is the most ridiulous thing I think I've ever heard. Banning something for which there is irrefutable scientific evidence in order to not upset some people who believe in fairy tales... unreal.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Dan

      I once worked with a holy roller who was convinced that the government planted dinosaur bones and other fossils to make us 'believe' in evolution. Needless to say, I didn't work there very long.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  12. Mark from Canada

    The Latin meaning of education does not mean to go out!! That's false. The etymology comes from ēducātus – which means to bring up or rear a child. You would think on an article on education that they would at the very least get that part right.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Marc

    Keep your religion out of children's education. I understand why it's important to keep religion out of schools because religion has faith; but to deny science that which is supported by EVIDENCE and FACT.. come on.... "Upset fundamentalists?" Isn't that the point?

    Religion = thoughts and misguidence that lead to belief, or faith.
    Science = observation which leads to evidence to support facts.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Dan

      I don't have kids so I'm not sure about this; but I wonder if they teach kids about the 'Inquisition' and how 'the Church' murdered hundreds of thousands of people, including Galileo because they were teachers and researchers of science. I'm guessing the answer to that question is 'no'.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  14. Mike

    How backwards, the word "dinosaurs" is controversial? What a joke. May as well teach that the earth is flat. Oh, is that banned too?

    March 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  15. Ron

    Huh, trying to protect the sick minds again? OH, Dont use the word "POOR" It will hurt my feelings, cuase I am!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  16. red-rider

    How do you give a test about dinosaurs when the word is banned from the test?? How can these words invoke bad feelings when they are used in the proper context?

    March 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  17. Matthew Englund

    If they ban those words, they may just as well ban the word 'education' too. ;-(

    March 29, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  18. Mike

    Yes...keep the mindless masses ignorant and fearful. How can they cause problems if they cant even communicate to each other.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  19. Bryan

    Bold move...because the best way to deal with issues is to ignore them completely.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
  20. George

    Anything that deals with or mentions reality at all could potentially upset conservative christians. So what. The worlds needs education, and this is exactly why.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:09 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.