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. angelis

    If the kids won't encounter these words in school (where they are supposed to get basic learning/guidance on society&culture), I wonder how it'll be like for them someday if they hear/read these "banned" words elsewhere?

    March 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • Yabba Dabba Don't

      You you think the only place they hear words in at school during standardized testing? I imagine the words "dinosaur" and "television" are not going to shock them much when they hear them.

      It's not that these words are banned from use in schools, nor even from most testing; they are only not to be used in standardized testing (a very limited part of the school year) so that ethnic upbringing does not skew the results (they also give the excuse about not offending, but that's pretty damn unsupportable).

      March 29, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • zri v koren'

      this Yabba Dabba must be a teacher

      March 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  2. dumbingdown

    If we DUMB DOWN EDUCATION enough .... and eliminate enough words ... pretty soon the kids won't have to take a test at all – there will be no words which anyone can use. Then, we can eliminate the need to attend school entirely. Saves the tax payer some money!!

    March 28, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • oddly enough

      i think you should take a look at the movie "Idiocracy". even being sarcastic isn't going to save you on the internet.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  3. James

    America is slowly skidding off the road of progress, with free thinkers and progressives at the wheel and fundamentalists, and conservatives in the passenger seat jerking the wheel from side to side.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Moncada

      George Washington was wise to warn against political parties, and we were unwise to not follow.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  4. † In God We Trust †

    The more unbiblical and unGodly this nation turns into, the more problem will be caused.
    Who the heck is offended by 'Christmas', 'Halloween' etc... this must be a joke!

    March 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Moncada

      Just a hunch "Who would be offended?" Maybe the Left.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • In God we should neither trust nor believe.

      On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.

      We sure know where you are coming from, dumbkraut. You lost last time and you will lose if you try it again.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • dumbingdown

      Quote: "The more unbiblical and unGodly this nation turns into, the more problem will be caused."

      I don't know about you.... but I thought there was a problem when people were burned alive at the stake for not believing in a certain religion. I thought there was such a problem with religion that many people left England to form new colonies in what is now the USA so they could become "unbiblical" and "ungodly" if they wanted – without fear of political / criminal retribution.

      The need is not more religion – the need is simply to teach kids what options are available to them out there – but those options are slowly being eroded for political correctness. Just IMHO.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Ben

      I'm fairly certain this is a Poe.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      LOL you're just jealous we have a big cross on WTC memorial and we put our God in currency and motto 🙂
      Try remove it !!

      March 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Taking this and putting into a box of "left" and "right" shows to partisan thinking that you have. You said George Washington had it right when it came to political parties, and yet you reduce this to merely a political party issue. I'm fairly certain that's an instance of hypocracy.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @In God

      What the hell are you babbling about? Who said anything about the currency and motto? Which by the way wasn't added until the 1950's.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      America was created as a Christian nation, but we somewhat got away with that because of those atheists trying to take away our freedom and rights, and persecute Christians. Our founding fathers wanted freedom OF religion, NOT from. We have no state religion, but we still are Christian nation!

      March 28, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @In God

      That makes absolutely no sense. We have no state religion, but our state religion is christian.
      Think about that for a second. It makes absolutely no logical sense to say that.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      We have no official state religion, because there are many Christian denominations out there. But our culture, tradition, values, holidays, calendar etc. are based on the Judeo-Christian!

      March 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And before that, where did those holidays come from? Halloween, Christmas, and other things. The value system can be traced to before Christianity. How many of those denominations were around during the time of our forefathers? If they intended us to be a christian nation, then why not name it? The simple fact is that this nation does not recognize any religion as being superior to any other, and our nation was founded on the principals of having the law and religion seperate.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Whatever. America is a Christian nation and you should read the consti.tution of Independence including all letters etc. and you will clearly find that we are a Christian nation but with freedom of religion. Period.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      What's wrong "In God". Can you not defend your position itelligently anymore?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      It wasn't the left protesting Harry Potter because it involves witches.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • Tim

      Yeah, and the founding fathers had black slaves and mistresses too. It's time to move on, dinosaur.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • richunix

      @ † In God We Trust †

      Here what your Fore Fathers say about religion: Repost

      1. TruthPrevails
      I came across a recent article of quotes from the founding fathers of the USA...this is a reasonably long read but it goes to prove that the USA is not a christian nation.
      1. "Christianity is the most per.verted system that ever shone on man"- Thomas Jefferson
      2. "The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs." -Thomas Jefferson
      3. "It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet the one is not three, and the three are not one- Thomas Jefferson
      4. "And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be cla.ssed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors."- Thomas Jefferson
      5. "There is not one redeeming feature in our superst.ition of Christianity. It has made one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites."- Thomas Jefferson
      6. "Lighthouses are more useful than churches."- Ben Franklin .
      7. "The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."- Ben Franklin
      8. "I looked around for God's judgments, but saw no signs of them."- Ben Franklin
      9. "In the affairs of the world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it."- Ben Franklin
      10. "This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it"- John Adams
      11. "The New Testament, they tell us, is founded upon the prophecies of the Old; if so, it must follow the fate of its foundation.'- Thomas Paine
      12. "Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst."- Thomas Paine
      13. "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church. Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."- Thomas Paine
      14. "Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies."- Thomas Paine
      15. "All national inst.itutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."- Thomas Paine
      16. "It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene.”- Thomas Paine
      17. "Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by the difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be depreciated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society."- George Washington
      18. "The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession."- Abraham Lincoln
      19. "It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded agst. by an entire abstinence of the Gov't from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect agst. Trespa.sses on its legal rights by others."- James Madison
      20. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."- James Madison

      March 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Just lobotomize them

      ITs the biblical and the godly that are causing shat like this to happen.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Matt

      OK – I think we can see just how educated "In God" is by his/her statement "consti.tution of Independence". Yes – they are definitely a authority on American history.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • Seriously?

      I am offended by Baptists.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • Tracy

      There is no god, you blindsided, brainwashed fool.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • Tracy

      I feel like burning a cross right now and wiping my butt with a bible.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • REC

      Who is offended, why those that do not want to be held accountable for their hate filled vile and preverse ways. Their logic is that if there is no GOD then there is no accountability and they can do as they please. Boy are they going to be supprised.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:54 am |
    • prettygirlssuck

      The more "unbiblical" we become, the better.

      Or shall we emulate Numbers 31?

      I love how Christians cherry pick their "biblicism" and pretend that the Bible is anything but a primitive, blood-soaked mess.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • maffers05

      Why? Why do people like you insist on making us all look so so dumb? You're behavior here clearly shows that you've missed the point of most everything Jesus taught. I hope you figure it out for yourself soon. I really do.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • maffers05

      Oh, and that was directed at "In God We Trust" –which you should change your name to "In God I find My Holy License To Argue." Just think about all sides and then respond thoughtfully with a peaceful mind and heart. And if you dare bring up Jesus turning tables in the Temple, just remember that that whole incident was directed at people who claimed to believe what He believed. Like you.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Zeke2112

      "you should read the consti.tution of Independence "

      Hahahahaha. And...you're done. Thanks for playing.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  5. Moncada

    Those silly Democrats.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • smeeker

      I'm a Democrat and this PC bull makes me want to yack.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • John

      Coming from an ass-backwards conservative, this means nothing.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
  6. † In God We Trust †

    What about any Jewish words? Michael Bloomberg (NYC mayor) is truly a zionist !!

    March 28, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • In God we should neither trust nor believe.

      On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.

      We sure know where you are coming from, dumbkraut. You lost last time and you will lose if you try it again.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Their leader became an atheist. Same as YOUR belief.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • EvolvedDNA

      In God..you would not trust god with your life if it was in immediate danger,,you would put your faith in a human. Would you honestly trust god to land the plane you are in from 40,000 ft if the pilots refused to land it, or baled out .I know it would result in a large hole in the ground...and so do you....no trust when the chips , or the plane is down...its just a saying you have been taught from childhood.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
    • Ivan

      no but i would trust in where i would end up afterward.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Tracy


      March 30, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  7. Cat

    Maybe if we stopped "dumbing down" the schools I could stop seeing blatant typos in news sources "The Latin meaning if education" THE MEANING IF? Come on people, stop relying on that red squiggly line please.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    thats right, make um dumb – er!

    to teach properly one must learn all material avil. not GIVEN – this is tryanny under the guides of censorship! BS

    March 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • momoya

      Ii think the word you were looking for was "guise.". I disagree with your assessment.. The teacher can use those words, they're just not allowed on federally-funded standardized tests.. It's a good thing that can keep the government from appearing to advocate a religion, s3xuality, or other hot-button position.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • hippypoet

      i don't mean to say that the teacher should make avil all material – that is most def. wrong as some material is very very age prevy! But what i mean to say is you teach yourself and you should learn all things avil...this type of censorship creates false ideals of the outside world for young kids! I know its only for the fed paperwork and fed tests but that is exactly the point – to a child the feds run the country and they should be above such pity things – come to find out they are just tools like everyone else... its sad and unneeded, but most importantly its unconsti.tustional for the feds to intervene upon the cl@ss room and tell what is to be taught! facts are facts because they are true – lets not pick the story we feed our children but rather just be honest and teach the truth...what is the worst that could happen? smarter people? oh god! lol

      March 28, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
  9. Eva

    so much for freedom of speech :s At the rate they're going, sentences like "I heard birds singing and saw the sunrise over the hills." will be banned because they offend the deaf and blind.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Freedom of speech? You have to be kidding. The test authors can use any damned words they like. They can print as many copies as they like. But, if they want to sell them, they need to pay attention to the wishes of their customers. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • momoya


      March 28, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Eva

      actually it does since students and by extension parents and teachers will feel so restricted in the thoughts and ideas that education and communication will suffer. If for instance, and reading comprehension passage talks about "how people around the world celebrate Christmas", the purpose is not to convince the reader to celebrate the holiday, but to inform them about it. That is how people in a diverse country learn from each other. The same can be said about Charles Darwin's Theory being taught in schools. No is saying this is what you have to believe, it's part of science curriculum because it educates students about survival of the fittest. And your argument is futile because many authors (regardless of how offensive or respectful ) still make millions in sales because they know their target readers well enough.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
  10. Ignorance is Strength

    March 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
  11. Snow

    unbelievable.. lets add new words to the list.. starting with "education" and "future".. geez!

    March 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Let's add all forms of the word "earn" since it conveys the notion that one must work to succeed. Success should be guaranteed to all, regardless of effort.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  12. Bill

    Americans, what is happening to your country?????

    March 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Bob

      Just ignore New York City. It'll slough off like a scab eventually.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Fahrenheit 451

      We've been waiting for California to do just that.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Moncada

      If the Bible holds true New York City (Mystery Babylon) will be destroyed in an hour.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • dancingjelly

      It's already happened. It's over. Where can I move where people are allowed to speak and think freely???

      March 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Seriously?

      I don't know, Bill.

      I wish I knew. The common populace have been under assault since the beginnings of religious fundamentalism creeping into government.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  13. hippypoet

    i just puked at this retardedness! people are dumb and there is no room for error – this article is the proof!

    March 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  14. momoya

    Good.. Lately, teachers have been getting fired for having questions on tests that asked for calculation on how many slaves would be necessary to do a particular slave job.. The government is just trying to keep from coming under fire from over-sensitive people/communities (religious/racism crowd/glbtq/etc).

    March 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  15. The Central Srutinizer

    OMG, Italians eat pepperoni! Who knew?

    March 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  16. Emma

    Why does everything have to be so politically correct?

    March 28, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I wonder too. It's so much more important that we be anatomically correct.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. Jennifer

    This is ridiculously stupid.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Fahrenheit 451

      Don't read it. Don't think it. Don't believe it.

      Don't worry. It's just censorship. Ignore it and it'll go away.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
  18. The Central Srutinizer


    March 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  19. The Central Srutinizer

    It is time to stop testing altogether and just issue all the kids hand guns. Stand your ground kids. You have the right to be stupid.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Pat

      Too late. They already have all the Uzis and Glocks they need. Go try and take them away from them. It'll be hard without access to their registrations. Yeah, right. Registrations.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  20. Reason

    Yes that is right! Divorce is so far removed from reality that it has to be banned from the tests. Children do not understand Divorce.

    March 28, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Bob

      This is just nothing but a disguised attack on Christianity once again.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • momoya

      Huh? How do you figure, Bob?!?!?!?

      March 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Frank

      Trying to avoid certain words to prevent evoking unpleasant emotions? Really? We live in a paradise and children need to be sheilded from alien emotions.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • John

      Paranoid much, Bob?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
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About this blog

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.