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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. Steve

    I'm a creationist...I believe that God created the Earth, but I'm pretty sure its proven fact that dinosaurs existed. Why don't people see that both theories can coexist?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Primewonk

      Both theories? What "both" theories?

      There is one theory that describes the diversification of life on earth. And that is the theory of evolution. There are no other theories.

      People, like you, assume that it is "creationism" vs evolution. It isn't. We've found well over a thousand different creation myths. The 2 (completely different) creation myths in Genesis are no more, nor no less, special than any of the thousand others. All of these myths are mutully exclusive, meaning no 2 or more, can be true. The only thing all thousand myths have in common is the evidence they have to support themselves. And that is zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Coexistence is futile.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Humans are programmed to label and categorize things. This group vs. that group. Them vs. us. Label this, label that. Lists upon lists. Put things in their place and categorize. A separation of everything and everything separated. This is how we think. This is how we understand the universe. Religion offers a simplistic way to categorize things by supplying a framework that explains everything in one fell swoop. "God created everything. God created man. Man exists to serve God. Christianity (or whatever religion you are part of) is the only accurate one and all others are evil." If you take a hard line view from that perspective, and it is a perspective that is alluring due to its simplistic nature and due to the fact that it appeals to our natural way of thinking, you are forced to exclude ideas that do not easily coincide within that provided structure. You believe God created the world 6000 years ago and it is not up for debate because it is an article for faith. When the universe provides evidence to the contrary, you put your blinders on and ignore the contrary evidence. Ultimately, the only way to deal with that is to mount an attack on contrary evidence. And that is what we have here.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  2. Next topic please.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  3. Dennis T

    It is liberalism at its best. The same city (and state) that vote overwhelmingly blue and more specifically, for the leftist Marxist, Obama.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      I hate extremes in either direction, but i'm not sure this can be blamed on "liberals". I think this is the work of crazy sissies with too much time on their hands.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • True Marxist

      "Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it – I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing. You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff. You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here? You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle."

      Groucho in Duck Soup)

      March 30, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  4. A

    So, how are they going to have a natural sciences class if they don't include dinosaurs?

    I can just imagine the history words that will be banned: holocaust, slavery, crusades ...

    Great idea. Let's only teach kids the things that even stupid people agree on.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  5. Dennis T

    Didn't someone else take a fancy to this kind of activity?

    Heil Hitler

    March 30, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  6. Mbane18

    Should we ban dinosaurs from museums and pretend they never existed? What is this world coming too?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  7. BadAndy

    So we want to encourage kids to not talk about controversial subjects? And we wonder why kids don't know how to deal with certain situation that they might find themselves in or the fact that they can't deal with hard situations. Because we try and shelter them from everything.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  8. The Jackdaw

    What a joke. We are supposed to be moving forward. I will never have my trip to the moon in this lifetime if we keep moving backwards like this.

    Debate is fine, differeing views are fine, biffering beleifs are also fine, but limited thinking is not.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • palintwit

      Sarah Palin scoffs at the idea that the moon is made of green cheese. She insists that it's a giant lint ball.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Sarah Palin is the symbol of everything that is wrong with this country. Her and Rush Limbaugh.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  9. Jason

    This is absurd, we need to cater to the majority not the minority. If they get offended then that is their fault for not being accepting of others beliefs. It seems like everyone is to worried about not offending someone that they obstruct on the rights of others to use these words or do certain things. Why should a Christian kid have to make a "holiday" tree instead of a Christmas tree? If we are preaching to everyone to be tolerant of others' beliefs than we have to do it both ways. It shouldn't e just the majority(mainly Christians) that have to give up their beliefs in public so that others feel comfortable. You see how hypocritical that is?. Christians aren't the only ones who need to respect other beleifs

    March 30, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  10. A G

    Actually, more accurately, the word education translates from the Latin as "to lead out." Clearly we are doing such a good job of that. And pepperoni, for real?! Offensive word? HAHAHAHA.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  11. ben

    i find this screwed up cause people take stuff to personally and its just to make money

    March 30, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  12. tj

    Nothing should be anned in education. It should be presented appropriately at age level but never banned. Education is about learning. Learning to cope with different ideas, tough times, other cultures, your own perceptions and how you effect others. No topic, however difficult, should be avoided so as not to offend. Offense is most often taken because of ignorance on either side.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  13. mort

    Literally the stupidest thing I've ever read. I can almost understand avoiding Hurricane in Florida the year after a storm hit because kids might get upset (although coddling the kids is the wrong way to teach them and prepare them for the real world). But I cannot understand not using the word dinosaur or birthday because of stupid religious beliefs. Do these same schools ban dancing (like in the movie Footloose)? And avoiding pepperoni? Really? I knew kids from kosher families when I was a kid. They all hated it. They all ate bacon cheeseburgers when we went out without our parents.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  14. La Salsa di Alba

    "Pepperoni" in Italian means "Green Peppers". thats all I got.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  15. snowdogg

    What evidence is there for a 6,000 year old earth?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • mort

      Absolutely none. it is religious stupidity.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Mbane18

      Maybe we should ban science classes as not to offend fundamentalists. We should also ban english as not to offend the people who come up with this stuff with our comments.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  16. Zach

    My favorite part of the Bible is when Jesus pulled the sword from the stone and then met up with Sean Connery to whoop some dragon be-hind. Epic.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • mort

      I like the part where god helped a football player score a touchdown.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  17. Gary D.

    Ridiculous..........the fact that these words exist, does not imply endorsement or lack thereof by the school system.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  18. L. McDonald

    From George Orwell's (Eric Arthur Blair) novel, 1984:
    "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?... Has it ever occurred to your, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?... The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

    March 30, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  19. Suzanne

    REALLY??? This is pathetic. How about having "foot" banned because everyone else uses the metric system? Part of the reason people get so sensitive about these things is because of this type of thing – people tend to behave in ways they are expected to behave. If the people making the test "expect" that someone will be offended, then you can guarantee somone WILL be offended because they've been told that they should be or that it's okay to be sensitive to that word or statement. I don't condone racism at all and I'm all for being tactful, but IT GOES TOO FAR!!

    March 30, 2012 at 8:39 am |
  20. GenXcynic

    These people actually get paid to come up with this stuff? The good folks in NY need to stop paying taxes until this type of foolishness is cut from the budget.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:39 am |
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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.