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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. Felix Blake

    I feel so sorry for the US, we are just loosing it. I don't know what's going to happen to us in the next 100 years. We just keep moving back, and the worl is surpassing ever more. We need to wake up, the Republicans and the Democrats are bad for this country. We need to have a government, national or local, that cares for this country, period!!

    April 1, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  2. jake

    By the way, Jehovah's Witnesses are not offended by the word "birthday". We simply don't celebrate them. 🙂 We are pretty thick skinned as a religious group. We generally like jokes about us too.

    April 1, 2012 at 4:11 am |
  3. paulronco

    This is perfectly normal and not even worthy of being called news. Move on.

    April 1, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  4. chris77jay

    I am sure this has already been said somewhere down there, but HOLY CRAP HASN'T ANYONE READ 1984!?!?!?!?!?!?

    April 1, 2012 at 1:27 am |
  5. Clydene

    I'm a Christian and I don't even believe this should be. Where do they come up with this. I see perfectly clearly where evolution, dinosaurs and creation could have taken place in the times they are said to have taken place. (No, not 6 days.) As a matter of fact, I have just recently become more interested in prehistoric creatures, because of archaeology and geology and reading about the Folsom man and Clovis Points found near the animals. In studying and reading about the Big Bend area and life that had existed in that region of Texas. Someone needs to say enough is enough.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  6. keith1952

    That is an example of how PC has made people stupid.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  7. † In God We Trust †

    I hope they banned Jewish/Muslim religious words as well!!

    March 31, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  8. Cookie

    Oh, yeah. I can't wait until some kid comes home and says to his paleontologist mom or dad, "You can't say that! That's a swear!" when they say the word, allosaurus in conversation at the dinner table.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  9. Cookie

    You know what made my children uncomfortable? Being given so much homework they had no time at all left to just be kids, but did the schools care about that? No, my kids' schools were too concerned with what they brought for snack. Homemade oatmeal raisin cookies were not allowed, because they had sugar in them, but Fruit Roll-ups were okay, because they were fruit! I argued about that one two years in a row with my son's school. The worst was the year my daughter's school sent home a list of "approved" birthday snacks. Carrot sticks, raisins, etc, but no cookies or cupcakes. They weren't healthy.

    March 31, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  10. Tara

    You have to be kidding.

    Sometimes I think we get dumber and dumber. Banning words because they "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students." So we banning the words Homework, chores, respect, responsibility, accountability and rationality? Those seem to make quite a few people uncomfortable these days...maybe we should just ban them for everyone so they are no longer an expectation...

    Are people so weak that they can't deal with anything?

    March 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  11. Anon

    Thank you retarded creationists and IDiots for fcking with scientific based education.
    Idiocracy/Theocracy here we come!

    March 31, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Tara

      This doesn't have anything to do with religion, just with ridiculous.

      March 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Anon

      Nope, these censorship policies reek of religious fundamentalism
      Do you know any self-respecting non-creationist educator that is afraid of the word evolution or dinosaur?

      March 31, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  12. 3511danny

    You can't make this stuff up!

    March 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  13. enderwiggin

    Bravo nyc dept of ed!!!! well done!!! i work in insurance and would dearly love for these same principles to be applied to my job. No longer will I have to offend our customers by uttering such loaded words as, gasp!!...DEDUCTIBLE!!! LIABILITY!!!! FAULT!!! This would really make my life easier. At the risk of offending anyone, instead of working their claim, maybe I could just read to them from any random children's book, say, maybe..the giving tree...and then stroke them a check!

    March 31, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Ryan Fahey

      You make a valid point,. As a teacher, loaded words is a systemic issue which needs to be addressed universally for social change and to benefit all students. Check out my blog @ http://www.wellnessnetworkblog.blogspot.com for other aspects of teaching.

      March 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  14. TimDawg

    As a Young Earth Creationist, I would like to thank you for the following line:
    "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."
    I understand that I am in the minority, but I often tire of how many articles, etc. make statements suggesting that there are no scientists at all who believe in a young Earth.
    Thos silly New Yorkers. Thanks for reporting in what appears to be a very balanced way, Eric.

    March 31, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
    • hga

      Were fossils placed in the way they were placed to "trick" humans?

      March 31, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • TimDawg

      Wow...."loaded words," meet "loaded question."
      Since I don't have time to address every specific challenge to what I believe, let me just refer you to sources like ICR or Answers in Genesis for various Creationist views on the fossil record and other lines of evidence commonly used to ridicule creationists.

      March 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • OhBoy

      "If he didn't reason himself into this position, then you can't reason him out of it..."

      March 31, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
    • TimDawg

      I agree, OhBoy.... some people just can't tell when their arguments are fallacious. Or was your comment referring to me, in an ad hominem fashion?

      March 31, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
  15. GoPinky!

    Well for goodness sake, this is certainly a great idea! We all know that when our kids get out into the real world, which BTW is what education is supposed to prep them for, they will never be exposed to things that bring about strong emotions, cause distress of discomfort. They won't ever have to deal with language that makes them uncomfortable, or bored. I am quiet certain none of them will have to deal with divorce, or choices about whether they want to celebrate birthdays or holidays so of course we should strike all those words out of testing language!!!

    March 31, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  16. Ghodsma

    NYC shools -
    The Cretin Factory

    March 31, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things. .

    March 31, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  18. Eric

    I'm offended by the word "test" and "education." Can I be excused now?

    March 31, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • David

      Ohio no longer administers the "Ohio Achievement Test", but rather the "Ohio Achievement Assessment", so students would not be stressed over the word "test" in the name of the test. Utter idiocy.

      March 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  19. sharkfisher

    Now the liberal schools want to curtail free speech. There is NO other way of stating it.Our freedoms have been eroded too much in the name of political correctness.If people can't stand the spoken words then they should put in ear plugs.

    March 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
    • raforrester

      I have another way of stating it. They are not curtailing anyone's speech. They have decided that they, themselves, will not use certain words on standardized tests, for various reasons. One reason is that everybody knows them, like "dinosaur." Quoting from the article, a word may not be used if "the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students." Do you know a single child who doesn't know the word "dinosaur"? Familiar. Boring. Overused.

      As for "divorce", if you are 10 and your parents are in the middle of a nasty divorce, seeing that word on a standardized test may cause an emotional reaction that slows you down, and hence doesn't really measure your ability.

      So if you need to blame the liberals for something, blame them for trying to make standardized tests more accurate.

      March 31, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • itsamazing2me

      @raforrester

      "More accurate?" More like more obfuscatory.

      By the time students are old enough for standardized tests, they are old enough to understand concepts without euphemizing them. "Divorce" is the ~standard~ term for the dissolution of marriage. This is a case of expecting children not to "man up," but "intellectual up."

      And as far as "dinosaur" goes, where does it stop? Take the expression "it's not a black or white situation." Uh-oh! Racist. See what I mean?

      March 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • raforrester

      @itsamazing2me

      There are plenty of words to test a child's abilities without using the ones that may be associated with traumatic events in a child's life. A hurricane or wildfire in Florida can leave a child with PTSD. Do you want to test whether they have a good vocabulary or whether they have gone through traumatic events?

      Reminding children that their parents are divorcing in the middle of a standardized test would be like putting peanut butter into a taste test. Most kids would do fine, but the ones allergic to peanut butter may have to go to the hospital. So why would you ever do that? With the many, many thousands of words available, there is no reason to include the ones that a predictably large number of children will have a strong emotional reaction to.

      As for "where does it stop?" do you have any reason to think that the phrase "black or white situation" is associated with traumatic events for a sizable number of kids? If so, then I'm OK with removing it from the standardized test, but there would have to be some actual data to show this, not just speculation.

      Note that I don't agree with removing any of these words from a curriculum, only from standardized tests where time is important and there is a lot at stake.

      March 31, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Correctsyou

      Your kidding me right? The conservatives are the ones who want these words banned. They don't want any of the kids forming their own opinions.

      March 31, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Betty

      Hear – Hear Sharkfisher! I totally agree with you. Why this crazy minority gets to rule is beyond any rational thinking.

      March 31, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • ualv

      Liberal schools, liberal teachers, liberal chairs, liberal pencils, liberal doors, see I can put the word liberal in front of anything too...

      April 1, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  20. itsamazing2me

    Pretty soon, there won't be any words left anyone is allowed to use for anything.

    March 31, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
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