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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. Wootings

    I'm sorry, it seems I've misunderstood something. Here I thought school was all about teaching kids to understand the world (and the universe) we live in. Turns out it's all about capitulating to people who apparently never went to school.

    Fire the entire board there for even suggesting such morony. If people have a "problem" with schools teaching reality, then they can home-school their own children into a lifetime of willful ignorance and stupidity on their own.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. erik

    Unacceptable and wrong. Sounds like you are uneducating kids now.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  3. FraterT

    This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Mike

      Soon I'm gonna have to move back to Cuba where they are going to have more freedoms.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  4. Mary Jane

    Another shortcut to thinking from our "education officials". They like to keep score in order weed...ooops... I mean screen out the dumb ones...oops again... I mean normal ones. This way governement agencies can solicit the smart ones to develope weapons and so that corporate banks can find "genius brokers" to come up with new complex trading derivatives.
    Everyword should be available for use. Even the word duh!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  5. Mike

    Just shoot me.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  6. SkyNet25678

    The future is great. Our kids might learn that aliens can be teleported if you juggle balls enough if an adequate amount of people believe it and want it taught!. I'm sure our nation's overall critical thinking abilities will soar!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  7. Reality

    Hey, this blog uses a filter for "offensive" words and word fragments numbering (based on the Word counter) at least 165. So in a way the topic prepares the NYC students for the computer world. No doubt newpapers and magazine publishers have word and fragment filters loaded on all of their PCs.
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    March 30, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  8. Slight of Hand

    So do they not teach evolution in New York anymore?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  9. 1138

    What....the....fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck

    March 30, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  10. Richard DAlfonso

    What does the banning of the word pepperoni have to do with Italians? This article is as ignorant as the Socialists who are trying to ban words.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • W Canelos

      It is not the socialists, just the right wing religious types wanting to keep the kids ignorant about evolution, and the reality that exists in the real world.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. Chris

    We need to stop protecting children from unpleasantness. The world is unpleasant. It's full of crazy people, death, destruction, etc. It's not all rainbows and monkey's dancing with toothbrushes.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  12. noname

    America, land of the free.....as long as you don't say "Dinosaur"

    March 30, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  13. sam

    Yes, let's teach our children to be so sensitive that they cry over every word that offends them. This is and always has been pathetic! A child should know what pepperoni is or a pork chop. This is NOT a Muslim country. If Muslims are so sensitive about seeing these words perhaps they should move to a Muslim country and leave mine alone. Get a backbone people.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  14. Southerner

    This has GOT to be a joke. Right?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • carly

      This can't be real... it just can't be real... I am in shock. What in the world is happening? It's like we're going back in time. Get me off this ride. I want reality.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  15. Brian

    I'm sure you could find people who don't feel comfortable with any word. God? Offend atheists. Meat? Offend vegetarians. Peanuts? Offend people who are allergic to peanuts. New York City? Offend those who wish they lived there but don't. etc...

    March 30, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  16. Andrew from Canada

    No no, you have it all wrong. It's not because of religious fundamentalists. They are banning the word "dinosaur" because it's a pejorative term for "school board trustee".

    March 30, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  17. David-MN

    America was founded on the basis of freedom. We open our doors to all origins of people, welcoming them to experience a lifestyle based off freedom and equality. In return, small groups look to change the way the majority of our population and for that matter, our founders, have lived for centuries because it isn't the way they lived, back home... I in no means would move to a different country and expect them to tailor the way they live and teach to fit my beliefs or ideology. This is absolutely absurd and in no way , shape, or form represents the ideals America was founded on. The fact this is even being proposed and some people are willing to consider it makes me lose all hope in any future for our kids, let alone our "democracy". This is one of many things creating an awfully slippery slope toward...well, who knows at this point? At this point our kids future looks awfully bleak.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  18. CFoster

    Dinosaur pepperoni sounds delicious!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  19. Jonathan Hall

    Tempest in a teapot. I see why they ban words, but I reject the mindset that wastes the taxpayers money on such time consuming occupations. There's too little pay-off and we're already making each generation more risk-averse, which is not healthy for our society. But, being risk-averse themselves, I think this is largely driven by fear of law suits. So much of the blame can be thrown at the feet of a court system which continues to legitimize these frivolous complaints from parents and states.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • kingsb12

      The problem is not the court system. The problem is everyone trying to be PC when EVERY WORD OFFENDS SOMEONE! You don't avoid problems with future generations by avoiding "loaded words." You TEACH kids about the controversies in the world and WHY the words are "loaded." I'm sorry if people don't "believe" in dinosaurs. I don't know how someone can choose not to believe in fact, but that's beside the point. Regardless of a persons belief, if they don't teach younger generations about both sides of the coin and allow an educated choice of what to believe by the youth, you are no longer educating; you're merely brainwashing children to follow your beliefs. This ridiculous push by the board of education is not helping anything.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Leprakawn

      @kingsb12:

      Well said. But I do have to ask those who do not believe in dinos...what are those fossils in the museum for?

      March 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  20. Numbers

    Might as well ban the numbers 13 and 666, and 7 and 21 (instills gambling), and 44 (the current presidency). Actually, just ban ALL numbers because not everyone can be Number One and we don't want to hurt all others' feelings, especially our own as this nonsense is leading the USA down the wrong track.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Sensitive Sallys

      Agreed. This is only slightly more ridiculous as the ban of "duck, duck, goose" in all public schools.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:00 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.