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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. Voice of Reason

    Shall we also tiptoe around "planet" and "orbit" to appease those who believe the Earth is flat?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  2. Ewpos

    th. word "the" terrifies me. I could barely type it here. I hope that they remove it from every test going forward. Also, the words .f, .s, .s. .nd, .r, and .t.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  3. ChristoInferno

    I'm offended by stupidity, but they seem intent on cultivating it in our children.

    I don't care if Jehova's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays - that doesn't change the fact that THEY EXIST. Same for dinosaurs and pepperoni.

    This is by far the dumbest thing I've heard since the last time Sarah Palin opened her mouth.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  4. Billmeno

    I am offended by CNN .... can we ban them.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  5. JonB

    This is doubleplusgood!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  6. Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

    I am offended by the words “black’ and “history” can we remove these also?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Cute, troll. You must be unemployed.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      Ha… calling me a troll while using my handle.

      Classy

      March 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  7. Billmeno

    What a bunch of crap. All this does is teach people to look for a way to be offended. Everyone should be segmented in a number of ways so that they can take offence. Then they can make the news....file suit against someone....make some money......

    Why not teach people to be self confident so that they are NOT offended. Teach people to get along.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  8. Scott

    I am a Christian and this is ludicrous. One of the key things successful people learn is how to handle such things as criticism, offense and conflict. This mamby-pamby "let's not hurt anyone's feelings" is crippling our kids development. If our kids are shielded from "offensive" language then they are abandoning our children to playgrounds and streets and movies and books (until they burn them!) where they will be less able to handle something offensive. This is social networking gone south which is going to promote unbalanced and neurotic members in the next generation. It's really crazy that they propose to shield our kids from what they conceive of as bad, but refuse to teach them a standard right conduct. That's pure hypocrisy on their part, because they are measuring words by their adult standard without equipping the kids to do that on their own. Pure insanity.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  9. Scott

    These educator's in NYC need to come down off of their pedestal. To insinuate that they know more than us is the real insult. It would be interesting to find out just how they brainstormed and concluded that any certain word would cause any particular offensive issue with any one child / group. That is what I would like to know. And then they insist on instilling this type of mockery and cult-like thinking? And this is really what it is; the education system has become a cult whereas you will do as they say or else. When you have no other opportunity to do something or say something this is blatant control and manipulation.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'll bet they know when to use "its" and "it's", which makes them better educated than you are.

      Furthermore, they're not the ones who are initiating this nonsense. What has happened is that a few vocal parents have bit@ched at the administrators because their little darlings are "traumatized" by certain words. The educators are placating them. Are you really so stupid you think that teachers are interested in banning words?

      March 30, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  10. Brando

    Wow.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  11. Evan

    I hate when we give creationists scientific credit by saying "but few geologists and paleontologists share this view." What do you mean "few"? Find me one actual geologist (PhD from a real university) who shares the view that the earth is 6,000 years old. Creationism is not an opposing scientific view, it is not science at all!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son

      Exactly

      March 30, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • scott

      I hate people who hate. So take that!

      March 30, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  12. Bob

    I'm offended by the word 'taxes'. Can we do away with that?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  13. duh

    Another reason and validation as to why I'm paying a big check every year for private school.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Scott

      Same here. Private schools are the fundamentals of a great education. Not only that but when my kids visit Europe, they're on the same page emotionally also. As for American public school kids? It's sad but they are so behind the learning curve in not only educational requirements but their mental maturity is stunted. But should this come as a surprise to me? No. Considering that every week there is a new report of a female teacher / student relationship. If a female teacher has the same mental maturity of a 13 old boy, what does that tell you?

      March 30, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  14. carly

    I am dumbfounded! Oh wait – better not use that word... I'll offend someone! Better not say offended either – might hurt someone's feelings... This is a dangerous slippery slope. 😦 Not to mention completely ridiculous.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  15. tripwire

    I am offended by articles, both definite and indefinite.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  16. Joe F

    Loaded words? I'm sorry, but the government is going to contribute to the sheltered belief systems of fundamentalists by removing "offensive" words from tests? So if a tiny percentage of americans is terrified by the idea that facts might actually turn out to be facts, contrary to the stories of told by their religion, everyone else has to put up with it? hmm. Jee, lets find more ways to make fundamentalism sprout into full on Extremism! woo.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. duh

    Another reason and validation as to why I'm paying a hughe check every year for private school.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  18. Dean

    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 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."

    --------------Looks like, as with many government agencies, the Department of Educations should be done away with.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  19. FraterT

    The politically-correct dumbing down of our country continues...

    March 30, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  20. treblemaker

    This proves the existence of the decline and fall of the United States. The education system is supposed to be the gateway to a better life for our children, not the perpetuator of mental cowardice. Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they saw what now passes for our school system now. I've said enough, otherwise, I'll be here all day.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:13 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.