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. Jtk

    This is ridiculous. Why has everything in the United States become about political correctness? There are so many things in this country that politicians and the media make a fuss about that really aren't big deals. I'm a creationist; the word "dinosaur" certainly doesn't offend me. This shouldn't even be an issue.

    March 31, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • raforrester

      It's not about political correctness. It's about not using words that absolutely everyone knows, and therefore are not useful on a standardized test. The article actually says they ban words when "the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students," like "dinosaur" or "weed".

      Or words that certain ethic groups may find very familiar and others not so much.

      March 31, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  2. Dagnir

    Let me get this straight. The word "Dinosaur"... as in dinosaurs, on the age 4-12 top ten list of cool-stuff-o-meter since the 1880's are banned from public school tests. How about banning the words dog and cat because some kids resent the fact that their parents are allergic and won't get them one. How about banning references to baseball because of the steroid scandal?

    Maybe it's time to offend those who are being taught ignorance.

    March 31, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  3. Prayer changes things

    Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things .

    March 31, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  4. goneballistic

    They should look into banning the banning of words. Either that, or stoke a good fire, because book burning is just around the corner.

    March 31, 2012 at 4:03 am |
  5. airsam

    I would like "but" added to the list because it invokes images of my brother's big fat hairy a*# and if I take a standardized exam with that word in it I will fail and sue the crap out my school district!

    March 31, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  6. Rudolph Bund

    I believe schools have failed at teaching one important thing. Women belong in the kitchen.

    When I get home, my wife has a hot dinner ready for me every evening at 5:00 PM. If not, she sleeps out in the back yard no matter what the weather. That's how it is supposed to be. We have problems in this country because men aren't men anymore. They're all turning into a bunch of hipster pussies with their skinny jeans and emo glasses.

    I don't know any parent other than myself that sits down and teaches their children any real values anymore. I help my children with their homework as well. I'm not raising a couple of deadbeat, idiot, fairy pansies. My kids learn, and if the words "I'm offended" ever come out of their mouths, they'd best pack their bags. None of that trash happens under my roof.

    March 31, 2012 at 1:58 am |
  7. Reality

    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.

    ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
    co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
    co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
    cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
    cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
    ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
    ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
    ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
    ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
    jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
    ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
    koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
    pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
    pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
    ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
    se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
    sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
    sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
    ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
    va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
    who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

    There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
    Allowed words / not blocked at all:
    raping (ra-pe is not ok)
    shat (sh-@t is not ok)

    March 30, 2012 at 11:55 pm |

      Well holy fucking pope shit.

      March 31, 2012 at 1:18 am |
  8. samsart

    And these self same 'experts' wonder why we have a nation of young people with no impulse control, no respect for other cultures, other beliefs and most importantly....no ability to deal with the real world. Why not TEACH about these words and their origins. Why not use them to bond people rather than divide them into warring cliques. Cliques used to be broken up by the teachers and administrators. Now they foster them. We are at the mercy of those who can't- therefore they teach. Why not celebrate diversity. Why not reveal what is positive and normal about differences, rather than play this game of .oooooh, someone may be offended. Is that the case, or is it the fear of lawsuits filed by those who have no skills at getting along with others.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  9. Green1955

    If your going to ban words from tests...then what prevents the banning of words from text books...from which the tests are derived? So its okay to be offended from reading textbooks, but not okay to be offended when it comes to tests?
    Pure stupidity!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • Jeremiah

      They have banned words in Children s books and books like Tom Sawyer and one of my Childhood favorites "Tikki Tikki Tembo". They changed the name and a few words around. It is now Nikki Nikki Tembo because they did not want to stereotype Chinese people.

      March 31, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  10. Green1955

    "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."
    With 10,000 religious sects in the world this is going to be lots of fun!!!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  11. Green1955


    March 30, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • mandarax

      It won't make dinosaur fossils go away.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Matthew

      The only thing prayer changed was the amount of time I had to do other things

      March 31, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  13. j Williamson

    Well, can the kids at least sing the old Tammy Wynette tune "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" (?) ("Our D-i-v-o-r-c-e becomes final today ... me and little J-o-e will be goiin away..."

    March 30, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  14. ELH

    Complete and utter idiocy.

    Sample question:

    What geological epoch is usually associated with large green scaly toothsome long-tailed life forms?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
  15. Brian

    This is just proof that you can't say ANYTHING without someone being offended or upset about it. Context, meaning, and subject matter get thrown out the window because no one wants to hurt anyone else's feelings.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm |


    March 30, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • eeyore

      In the school where I teach, a parent objected to students being taught a few ASL signs.

      There are idiot parents who will complain about anything and everything, and administrators run scared.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
    • mandarax

      Um, I think they're from here, xenophobe. Not everyone different from you iz a ferner.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  17. kerberusII

    the goodly professor of education is not much of a professor if he thinks education means "go out". apparently he has not looked at the millions of red signs that read "exit". if he were "educated", he would know that education is a physical word that describes the process of leading out raw ore into a finished product. but like other educators, they would never be allowed into the academic world as they are too strung out on weed to notice their product, students, have become illiterate and lack the elementary skills of reading, 'righting and 'rithmetic. if you want to become educated, take an academic course as in math, science and foreign language and leave the education to the politicians and simpletons.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  18. Emily

    I went to school with a kid who was a Jehovah's Witness, he was in my 2nd grade class. It was interesting learning about his religion and how they don't celebrate any holidays. When it came to Christmas time and we went around the room saying what we'd like for Christmas, the teacher said to him, "you can just say what you'd like to buy." and to the best of my knowledge no one got sued and he turned out fine.
    My husband is from Russia and grew up Jewish, and his family celebrates New Years instead of Christmas or Hannukah. This past year when there was a huge debate over the use of "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays", I asked him about when he was younger and they did Christmas activities at school if he got offended because he didn't do Christmas. He said no. I asked him if he felt weird because he didn't get to open presents on Christmas Day like most of his friends, he said no. He seems fine to me, and it hasn't scarred him in anyway. I said "All right then" and that was the end of that.
    In the early 90s when I was in elementary school I remember there being lots of opportunities for learning about other religions and cultures. For instance, the kid who was Jehovah's Witness, there was a girl who was Jewish and her parents came in to teach the class about Hannukah and we played a game of dreidel, there were some kids who did a Native American dance at an assembly, and we had many speakers come in who had traveled the world and talked about their experiences. I'm probably a better person because of those experiences. it saddens me that at a time when we need to work together more than ever, we are pulling apart over things like words and because everyone gets offended about everything.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Rico

      Thank you, Emily...just, thank you...

      I've come to learn that the comments on CNN can be full of extremes, so I usually just get a laugh and move on. But your comment is a nice dose of level-headed rationality that makes the internet a little bit better of a place.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • AGuest9

      I second Rico's comment.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • small 'c' christian

      Hear, hear, Em.... note perfect.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  19. peter pan

    im on the floor on this exact moment...what about words like: man, women...im a man and it hurts my feeling when someone talks about a women.....or the word gay :O they are probably gonna cry... Americaa chill out and live a normal life like everyone

    March 30, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  20. Pam

    There is TOO much baning!!

    March 30, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
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