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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. Rob

    If their is a god out there now would be the perfect time to send an asteroid hurling threw space.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  2. kitty

    I think eventually they'll determine that there are very few words that are not controversial. For example a simple word like "fail" could invoke unpleasant emotions in students with learning disabilities. "NO" – it has negative connotations. "Science" could offend some religious people too.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  3. Oregonians

    This is rediculous..

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Mike D

      This PC world has gone full blown crazy.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  4. Jacob's Dad

    Un real. Hostly totally absurd that we now have to ban words because some beaurocratic idiot thinks we are doing our kids justice by keeping them from spelling certain words that might demand some thought and or explanation. Personally for me put any word in the dictionary or urban dictionary or slang dictionary you desire. It is then up to me as a parent to educate my 9 year old as to the meaning and use of that word. As a parent I welcome those discussion just as I did having the talk about the birds and the bees a few weeks ago. It is parent of being a parent. I say if you can't handle discussing the words quite frankly you probably shouldn't even be a damn parent!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Bats

      I would totally agree with your statement except for the fact that most of these words don't require any extra thought or explanation.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  5. momof4inny

    Get rid of standardized tests and you won't have to worry about it!
    The public education system has a whole lot more to concern itself with than this nonsense! Political correctness has become a major obstacle in education; we can't say this because someone might be offended, we can't correct or discipline a child because someone might be offended.
    What's offensive is our children as a whole continue to perform poorly in every core subject area. Our young adults are liguistically and mathematically illiterate, they lack basic life skills that 20 years ago an 8th grader had mastered, and bullying has become a disgusting epidemic! I fail to see how banning, of all things, WORDS is going to help all that! Seriously people, stop looking for excuses to continue to dumb down our kids and man up! Get rid of the standardized tests and actually allow the teachers to TEACH!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  6. Harry

    Banning words is the first step on the way to banning books and should be avoided at all costs. There comes a point in time where enough is enough with the politically correct cr@p.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  7. horace

    If I read this correctly, they are not really "banning" these words because they find them inflamatory. They are banning these words to avoid having to answer to psycho parents who are worried that their kids will be at a disadvantage if a standardized test asks a question about dinosaurs.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  8. Andy

    The things we do just make me plant my face firmly against my palm and sigh real heavily.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  9. Ian M

    Is this what the USA has come to? – A Country where 19,000+ people die per year due to lack of being able to afford health care, millions of children go malnourished, autism is at the highest rate of any Country, we have been at war non-stop for many years, poverty is the worst in the first world with the dead-last likelihood of making from working-class to middle-class, yet we have money to waste on boards deciding what words to ban because they are "unpleasant".
    What kind of world are these people living in?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Redspotz

      What the "F" does your ObamaCare ad have to do with this article?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  10. Wade

    Oh great now the liberals want to ban the English language what is next. Are our children not stupid enough already do the liberals have to keep making them more stupid?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • Temp Name

      how do you get that liberals are doing this? The article specifically says "fundamentalists". It does not say a specific political party was pushing this issue.

      If it were a political party, which it is not, the vast majority of religious fundamentalists vote republican. Check your facts and read the entire article before rushing to blame a group of people wade.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • liberal dan

      uh, Wade? How may "liberal" creationists do you know? or have heard of? or that could possibly exist? Liberals are not afraid of words or information–conservatives are. You want to know where the problem is? Look in a mirror, genius. If you could read, you would know that the problem stems from the fruit cake scared conservatives that disregard science and evidence. Sound familiar? Something tells me it should, since you are likely among them. Moronic christian conservatives are demanding that America be dumb enough to fail. Congratulations, we are on our way.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Colinmb

      No crazier than when christian conservatives burn books.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  11. O.T.

    Public education was great for a while, but the education lobby destroyed it. Send your kids to private schools.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  12. MalcomR

    That's it. I'm moving to Norway.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  13. patandfritz

    Oh yeah!! Another way to make sure the children know less than anyone else. Do these dumb down experts realize that by dumbing down the kids like this they will eliminate a future?? How will the next generation after these kids know anything? They wont have anyone who knows anything to educate them with. There will be a whole generation of zombies running around scratching their heads trying to figure out how to even do the simplest things. Lets get back to real education no matter how unpleasant it may be.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  14. lilolme

    Why don't we just dunk our culture in bleach and neutralize everything?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  15. MalcomR

    Stunningly, brilliantly, STUPID. April 1st is a few days away yet CNN.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • we are idiots

      It's like we're in a race to become as stupid as we can. Let's avoid things we don't want to talk about that way when these children need to deal with these topics in the future they'll be completely unprepared. It sounds like the people who are proposing this were taught that way.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  16. lilolme

    Why don't we just dunk our culture in bleach and neutralize everything.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  17. Ed

    I find the term "Dinosaur" highly offense.
    Thank the good Lord Jesus Osama Christ that they're banning it!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  18. Rozelle

    I am offended by the word "test."

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • Zak

      LOL true dat!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  19. Mensaman

    The words "Department of Education" are beginning to offend me.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  20. Zachary

    If you honestly get offended that easy, home school your kids and watch them fail at adjusting to the real world. In the mean time let the normal people send their kids to a school where they can learn real science and get socially adjusted.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 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.