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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. RichmondVaCane

    So this dinosaur was smoking some weed on his birthday when a hurricane blew into town...

    March 28, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • God, the Almighty!

      I think "blew" and definitely "blow" are off-limits.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  2. mmi16

    Avoid ALL words – have a silent 'test'.

    Give me a F'n break!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  3. brian

    We're going to become a country of deaf mute androgynous clones because anything we might say hear or display is sure to offend someone if we don't

    March 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  4. Colin

    I have a friend who works at the San Diego zoo. She told me how much food and care it takes to house an animal like a kangaroo or tiger for even a short period. Kangaroos, for example, will only eat certain Australian grasses. Tigers eat meat, which means its food has to be raised and fed itself. An entire zoo, which only has about 1% of all animals on earth, takes hundreds of people and millions of dollars a week to keep its beasties.

    Fortunately, the New York Education department told me all about Noah’s Ark. So I know she was wrong. Clearly two of every species could spend a year on an ark manned by about a dozen people. They must have brought their own food.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • dada

      Really a good comparison in simple plain english words. And it does not require any mathematical skill to realize. 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  5. angryoldguy

    My country just gets sadder every day! Someone might be offended! I know I am by this whole idea! GAG!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • God, the Almighty!

      You need some weed!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • Carl

      America just got sadder, but dinosaurs just got more AWESOME.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  6. Colin

    Which of the following is the most barbaric act imaginable, that only a sick psychopath would condone?

    (a) Cutting off the hand of a thief
    (b) Hanging a convicted killer
    (c) torturing and burning a woman as a witch; or
    (d) burning somebody for all eternity, simply because they do not believe something you could easily prove to them, but choose not to?

    March 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
    • God, the Almighty!

      (e) Again, WEED is the answer!!!!

      (Seriously, you can prove God exists?)

      March 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  7. God, the Almighty!

    Can someone please tell the all the fundamentalists to just to suck it?!

    Note to the GOP: My son and I are NOT amused by how you are exploiting our memories.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  8. agooyers

    yes, let's avoid talking about things we disagree on. That's how things get solved.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • God, the Almighty!

      You hit the nail on the head.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  9. Colin

    I am the Judeo-Christian god. One time, I was really mad at an Egyptian Pharaoh. He had a group of my people hostage and would not release them. What would be the just and fair thing for me to do?

    (a) appear before him and demand that he release them

    (b) simply release them myself, given that I am all powerful

    (c) perform a quick miracle to help Moses prove himself; or

    (d) prevent him from releasing them by hardening his heart and then hold him responsible for his actions, but then punish thousands of innocent people for what I made him do and murder lots of first born children who had nothing to do with the situation.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Devin

      Letter "D" seems the most reasonable.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • God, the Almighty!

      I choose (e) - offer him some "weed."

      March 28, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  10. eagleash

    Reblogged this on eagleash and commented:
    I can think of some words guaranteed to cause offence.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  11. Devin

    Now I know why the US is falling behind in education. By the way.....dinosaur.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • ScaredofDinos

      AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! That word! It's so scary! Please stop! Where are the CNN censors to protect us?

      March 28, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • bspurloc

      uh really? i just broke out in tears cuz of that.... please dont say TWIN TOWERS next UGH

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  12. WCCT

    Why would any of these words be on a test in the first place?

    March 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • WCCT

      Q: How many divorced Muslim dinosaurs in halloween costumes does it take to eat 7 tons of pepperoni on Christmas, Jesus' birthday?
      A: Zero. It is against their religion.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  13. Tim

    And I'm offended by the term 'loaded words' because I'm obese.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  14. Colin

    Even if one ignorse the nutjob creationists, there are some pretty fundamental objections to Christianity that are hard to get around. Now before some believer rants back at me that I am evil, an “angry atheist”, or going to burn for all eternity in hell, please take the time to actually read and cogitate the objections. If you have a disagreement with a point I make, post it.

    However, if you only object to the fact that I said it, please understand that I do not buy into the whole “it is immoral to be skeptical of the Christian religion” argument.

    1. At its most fundamental level, Catholicism requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,700,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,700,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.

    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.

    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.

    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.a..p.e and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.

    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $eksual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.

    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.

    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.

    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 360 degrees.

    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Tim

      People like you are why CNN should limit the number of characters in a post.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      That's right, let's limit comment to one liner jingoisms!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • James

      People like you are why some of us bother reading through the usual tripe – occasionally someone comes along with a salient point.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • Why Not

      Except that Colin Yay-Hoo here has been cut & past posting the same drek for months. I think it's his only original thought. We'll, it's a thought. Probably neither original nor his own.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • West1737

      TL;DR

      March 29, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  15. Some guy

    This article was filled with so many words that upset me. Who can I sue for this? I blame the socialist government.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  16. Mike

    Sorry forgot. The following are very disgusting words and need to be removed immediately:
    – phlegm
    – mucus
    -sperm
    – puss
    – smegma

    thank you

    March 28, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Devin

      Please do not use the word "thank." It offends me.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • bspurloc

      dashsperm?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  17. joe

    I suppose we could drop an entire dinosaur skeleton on a fundamentalist and dispel any notion of it not being real, even IF it wasn't noted in the Bible of those 14th century BC desert nomads.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  18. Colin

    I have a good friend who works for Exxon-Mobile. He is a geologist engaged in searching for oil and other fossil fuels in Africa. They know where to look for oil based on the ages of the rocks and their location during the Carboniferous Period (which ran from about 360 million to 300 million years ago) which is when the vast mats of plankton and other small sea creatures were laid down that gradually turned to oil over the millions of years since.

    Fortunately, I have a friend in the New York City Education Department, who has told me that fossil fuels are not made of fossils at all, as the world is only six thousand years old and started with the Garden of Eden and a magic talking snake!

    So, I will write to my friend and tell him to stop looking where they usually find oil an open his Bible, as all the billions of gallons they have found so far based on hard geological science has j ust been a lucky coincidence. God must have buried some there to fool them. I wonder why he gave most of it to the Muslims?

    What a playful, loving god we have, and isn’t the New York city Education Department smart to know this!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  19. Tara

    I am so very tired of the ever increasing tip-toeing around everyone who could possibly be offended. Where do we draw the line? Should we not say the word 'black' because some narrow-minded people are prejudice and they are not comfortable around black people? Jehovah's may not celebrate birthdays, but they HAVE them. People need to recognize that just because a birthday is not celebrated, it does exist. Holidays, including Christmas, exist. They may not celebrated by everyone, but it is ok for those who do want to celebrate to do so. And, pepperoni! Are you kidding? Maybe if someone is exposed to something new he or she may find something new to like! What happened to the day when we could celebrate each others differences? Why do we continually try to pretend that people are not different from each other? Differences are what makes the world interesting. Learning about new ideas, customs, foods, etc. is how we grow as a whole. This practice of eliminating anything that may be offensive does more to encourage discrimination than it does to eliminate it. We need to learn to be a tolerant, accepting people. We have to learn that it is OK to be different. We need to have respect for all, no matter who they are and what they do.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  20. Canadain

    How can so many people be so ignorant. History will judge these "Fundamentalists" as the one true evil. How can they favor faith over evidence. Just sickens me to my core!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Gabe

      couldn't have said it better myself

      March 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Yes, we'll stated!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:51 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.