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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. Michael500ca

    Now New York City? The US really is going down the drain.

    The following may be sensitive to some fundamentalist religious groups, so f*** them!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  2. HEAVENBENT

    AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!

    Be very afraid. For you might offend some religious moron. Oh no! Not that!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:31 am |
    • Why Not

      I'm neither religious nor a moron, but I am offended by the diarrhea of thoughts being spewed by you.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:21 am |
  3. clearfog

    "Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.” For the same reason, the following words should be banned: science, logic, evidence.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  4. Use your head

    I can not believe how people are so coddled to these days. OMG if people cant handle words they need to go home, lock the doors and never come out again!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  5. Joshua Ludd

    So, dinosaurs might upset fundamentalists? SO WHAT! Dinosaurs existed. That is a fact. Evolution exists. That is a fact. We should not water down science and demonstrable reality in education simply because of backwards christian zealots who might get offended by it. After all, there are fundamentalists who would be offended that females were even taking the tests in question.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  6. tallulah13

    Oh. Brother.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  7. Veritas

    This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. I'm sure if you tried hard enough you would find some fringe group that would be upset by the word "the." We need to quit trying to be so "culturally sensitive" or "politically correct" and just write the test. Or better yet, do away with the standardized tests all together. They don't really serve a purpose and do more harm than good.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  8. RLS

    This really isn't a big deal. The word list has nothing to do with the curriculum. NYC is merely requesting that the words not be included on standardized tests. Schools are judged on student performance on these tests and the school board just wants them to go smoothly. Students are under pressure when taking the tests, so anything to prevent additional stress is helpful. It isn't like these words are being banned from the classroom for some ridiculous attempt at political correctness.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • You nailed it

      I was going to say the same thing to a number of really clueless posts. This banning is limited to standardized testing, which is about three or four school days each year, and was mandated by conservatives under W's first administration. The ban does not apply to teaching or regular testing, just this specific case. Teachers can teach about dinosaurs any time they want, and they can say Christmas and television. They can put those words on their own tests if they want.

      I can't believe people are so dim that they thought this story meant that all testing. Really!

      It is absurd, but there are no negative consequences either. It's not like the school board is banning the teaching of evolution.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:17 am |
    • smorgan

      Tests are supposed to be stressful. If you water down a standardized test to the degree that you cannot mention words as benign as those listed, the test doesn't truly reflect the skills of the tested. If the objective of the test is to measure the standard of achievement, that needs to occur in a real world environment, not someone's idea of a utopian society. It looks to me that someone in the department is more concerned about raising test scores than actually assessing studentg achievement, which makes this more of a political and money related issue than a PC issue. The problem is that it sets a precedence that some fool will use later on to ban something else, and then where will it stop?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  9. Ann

    What??? What ever happened to Tolerance? How, when and why did the wacko minority get to have so much (perceived) power, yet I have to tolerate this absolute ignorance and ridiculousness in silence as to not off-ennddd anyone?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Nicol

      Hi, I have a quick question for you. I am a 26 yr old male who has srueffed several DVTs in the past 10 years. I have never had an on going prescription for pain killers. I've been perscribed them for short times when I had clots, maybe a week at the longest. I have post thrombotic syndrome in both legs, severe ulcers on my left and not as severe on the right, but still ulcers. I was perscribed tramadol and it doesn't seem to help. What would you reccomend?

      July 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  10. Bilbo

    What do you do when you can't do anything else? Teach of course. If you can't handle engineering, physics, chemistry and the like you go get an education degree and then come up with this crap.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • Sure

      You have made it quite obvious that a high school degree is about all you have. The vast majority of real engineers and chemists actually appreciate educators.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  11. Joe

    Ever read a book called 1984?

    Rewriting our language... groupthink.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  12. kelly

    It amazes me that so called "educated" people believe that by avoiding all topics of discussion that they are better preparing youth. Knowledge is not evil, only the use to which we use the knowledge that we have is evil or good. A lack of knowledge is the fundamental flaw. Teach all that you can and allow the youth to make their own determinations about what is good or bad. Just teach tolerance for differences while you are there.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • RLS

      The topics are being avoided for a couple days during the standardized test. They are not being removed from school.

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

      RLS,
      This is understood, but if dinosaurs are traumatic for just a standardized test, what happens when the 2 week unit on dinosaurs comes around? Mass hysteria!?!?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  13. Fletch

    Further dumbing down of America...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  14. Bill in Florida

    Dinosaurs and humans lived together? Talk about delusional! We missed each other by about 65 million years.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:51 am |
    • Rino

      No way Bill! Don't you know that Dinosaurs crucified the Lord?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  15. cg

    Yes of course, the best way to equip our children to be able to deal with the complexities they will surely encounter as they progress into adulthood is to avoid even talking about anything that might appear to be controversial in any way.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:50 am |
  16. Josh

    Okay how are you supposed to teach people to debate and live with each other and actually teach them about subjects if you're not allowed to put the words on tests? Something's controversial? WHAAAAAH! Rather than teach people and educate them I guess it's best just to avoid such things since ignorance is bliss. Religion is an important aspect to history. Dinosaurs are an important aspect to parts of science. You can call them other things, or you can call them what they are and tell people to shut up when they start whining.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  17. Aiquoy

    everything offends everyonethese days, pretty soon you can't talk, no one will write anything. people are too sensitive. sorry, but your sensitivities do not supercede inalienable rights. You have the right to speak, not the right to prevent someone from saying you might find offensive. can't handle it, do our nation a favor and jump off a tall bridge into shallow water.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:41 am |
  18. Mark Twain

    God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  19. Phil

    Some of the stupidest crap ive ever heard. But hey, what do you expect from a Liberal state.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • keithgreysr

      Oh, a liberal state like Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Florida, or North Carolina?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Bobby

      Umm.. this is about NY City.. not the state.. Last I checked the mayor of NYC was a republican.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  20. Lisa

    how about brain – since apparently not one person on the deciding panel has one

    March 29, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Thinks2010

      That's exactly what I was thinking. If the children (and parents) are so sensitive, it is a wonder that they can survive at all in NYC. It's not like New Yorkers are known for careful and sensitive expression. Good grief!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:57 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.