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. Robert

    OH PUHLEEEEASE! Why don't they ban the word SCHOOL as well? That one always evoked unpleasant emotions in me when I was growing up. Also the word TEST was another one. This is Political Correctness taken to yet another insane level.

    April 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  2. me

    April Fool's?

    April 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  3. Clueless in Cleveland


    April 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  4. ScoRho

    They should ban the word "yankee" from New York schools because there are places within the country and south of the border where "yankee" is a pejorative term, and there are other people who find the New York Yankees offensive.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  5. Taylor

    I think that is a horibble idea just because kids don't know how to read it doesn't mean you ban it. I think if kids can't read those words then you need to teach them more. I'm only in the 4th grade and i can read them perfectly. That's my opinion to this blog.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  6. Zma1978

    If someone thinks the Earth is actually 6000 years old and not 6,000,000,000 they are nut cases.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Eli

      Duh. In this day and age this is not even a relevant topic. Anyone who argues against evolution and other scientific fact do not deserve a podium to voice there nonsensical opinion.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
    • Robert

      You are naive in assuming the word "year" as used in the Biblical reference was 365 days as we currently define it. There are other Biblical references that say that 1000 years is considered a single day to God. So there are 2,190,000 days in 6000 years. Multiply that number times 1000 and you get 2,190,000,000 years. Over two billion years. So maybe a little humility is in order before we "assume" we know the definition of year as mentioned in the Bible.

      April 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Zma1978

    To all

    All this is a bunch of bull****. People and their religions, all this propaganda. Most people who follow a religion are hipocrates to begin with.

    April 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Joey

      I am religious, yet I am not an ancient Greek physician from the age of Pericles!

      April 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  8. coastlinecascot

    This article only shows of course the CNN spin on religious "loaded words'. They CNN did not show the envy words New york education dept banned like swimming pools or home computers. Other words like Desease or terrorism. Give me break PC police.

    April 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  9. Jataka

    Why not just make the youth of America wear bonnets and diapers. That's the way the country is going isn't it? to emasculate our youth and make them weaklings?

    April 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  10. Don

    I would like to comment on these statements "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."
    I`m a Christian and a read my bible and this is not what Gensis tells us, you see there is a verse in the New testament that says one day to God in heaven is a thousand years on earth, so when Genisi discribes the creation of the earth as from verse 2 it actualy takes God 6 thousand years to prepare the earth for flesh man, and on the 6th day God created all the other races of men he blessed flesh man and saw that his work was good he rested on the 7 th day and on the 8th day he created Adam and placed him in the garden, its right there in plain print read it for your self, the other races were here 2000 years already before God made Adam, as for the dinosaurs ,we all can plainly see they are millions of years old, but it wasn`t flesh man that walked with the dinosaurs it was spiritual man , you see the inhabitants of heaven were free to walk the earth until that privillage was revoked following Lucifers rebelloin happened ,so in genisi verse 1 that says the earth was made void,this is after God destroyed the dinosaurs to change the earth and make it habitable for flesh man ,so the time span between verse 1 and 2 is milloins of years.
    Everyone pick up your bible and read Genisis ch 1 and see for your self ,men(all the races we know today) were created on day 6 and Adam on day 8.

    April 1, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Don

      I found the verse in the New Testament i referred to 2Peter ch 3: 8. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

      April 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Eli

      That's a good way to spin the bible to make it seem less ridiculous, it's still ridiculous none the less. It blows my mind that people still follow that hate filled dribble written by a collection of mentally ill men who thought the world was flat. For the love of science wake up.

      April 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Don

      Eli did you know the crucifiction of Jesus was foretold in Palms 2000 years before it happened and it was so accurate it told how the soldiers would cast lots for his cloths when he died ,thats hardly dribble and the bible has been accurate on every prophecy to date.

      April 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Eli

      Don, did you know that all text relevant to the life of Jesus was written 100 years after he lived and there is no tangible evidence that he was even a real person. It is more likely that what Christians read as fact about Jesus is based on the palms, other ancient texts and here say than his called apostles. I've read a lot of old religious text and have come to the unequivocal conclusion the are not only nonsense but evil.

      April 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • lesliecgriffith

      Eli, regarding your comment (yet not creative cause I've heard it a million times) about "did you know that all text relevant to the life of Jesus was written 100 years after he lived and there is no tangible evidence that he was even a real person." Let me ask you, how do you know George Washington existed? The Bible and all it contains are real, and that's what scares Atheists and other non-Christians. There's a revolution coming.. Christians are speaking out more and more, and educating themselves more and more to communicate with people that have been fed lies. Bring it. My God is powerful.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Eli

      Your George Washington question does not even warrant an answer. I will not argue that your god is powerful. He turned you into a zombie without even existing. That takes power.

      April 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  11. scarey

    Lets burn some books while we're at it. Political correctness is killing us. When I was a kid the message taught in school was: "Majority rules", that's how the idea of elections began. Now we have so many special interest groups that it's "Minority rules". We need to stop listening to the whiners before we live in a bland world made up of generic everything. Lets make it the same for everyone! Except the whiners, they deserve special treatment. Hah!

    April 1, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  12. Mark D. Haszard

    Jehovah's Witnesses reject Birthdays all holidays,Thanksgiving even benign Mother's day.
    The Watchtower leaders want to be 'different' for the sake of being different.Jehovah's Witnesses are a dysfunctional group from the get-go .
    Christmas-Jesus was not born on exactly Dec 25th,but he also did not have his *invisible* second coming in the month of October 1914,a falsehood that is the core doctrine of the Watchtower religion.
    "tell the truth don't be afraid–Danny Haszard

    April 1, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  13. guest001

    Look no further Anderson Cooper, we have found the winner of the Ridiculist! My NY state tax $$$$ hard at work.....

    April 1, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  14. Ed

    Just because JW's don't celebrate a birthday does NOT mean they object to the use of the term or word.
    And others celebrating it is their business.
    And yes dinosaurs did exist, but what does not prove or disprove evolution. Only the idea some have of creation being 7 earth days.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  15. puresophistry

    This is a ridiculous proposal, and a shameful one. For any interested, Pure Sophistry has written an article about it and included a poll so we can all vote on how we think 'offensive' materials should be handled. Would appreciate any and all comments to continue the discussion!


    April 1, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  16. Ashley

    This is beyond ridiculous. Whatever happened to freedom of speech. These words are all very much a part of our cuture. I celebrate birthdays. I love dinosaurs. Divorce is a fact of life. If we continue to shelter children, then how will they grow up and learn right from wrong. Education was meant to challenge individuals' beliefs, morals, and values. It is supposed to allow individuals to make a stand. Children have to learn who they are. I am sick of liberals trying to change who I am, what I am allowed to believe in, and how I should raise my children. This is what is wrong with this world. Father God, please send Jesus to us again to end this corrupt world. Surely, it is as bad or worse at the time of the FLOOD. The BIBLE, GOD, and Jesus are all real. Faith grants hope, content, and love. Americans need to wake up and take back our country!

    April 1, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • Matt2

      The ridiculous notion that this is somehow politically motivated is well ridiculous. Liberals have no intention of outlawing teaching of sound scientific principles such as evolution. I agree, we don't have the right as parents or whomever to shield children from these things. We can try if we so choose, but I see no advantage and all negatives in doing so. This reminds of parents who don't take their children to funerals. If you keep them from exerpiencing life on your terms, they will experience it on someone else's such as their friends and their friends are by default going to be far worse teachers about life than you will be.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Alex

      JFYI, there's absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever in support of the belief in god(s).

      April 1, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • guest001

      Yes, the Bible is real. It is a fantastik collection of folklore to apply to our lives, and shape morals and values. To interpret it literally is an entirely different, yet equally as damaging as the inept NY board of education is proposing.

      April 1, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • guest001

      You mean take back the country we took from the Native Americans?

      April 1, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • lisa

      Ah, I wouldn't say it's the "liberals" who are trying to change who you are, what you are allowed to believe in, and how you should raise your children. While I too think this is a ridiculous list, I don't think this is just a "liberals" list. Some of these "PC" choices sound like they are in response to incidents where conservative religious types don't want things such as evolution or pagan inspired holidays to be in the schools. (Nevermind that Christmas is in itself a pagan inspired holiday – but that's another story) And it's usually not liberal types who go around telling people who they can marry, whether their teenage children can get access to birth control or what a person should be able to do with their own body. So stop your conservative spin and leave Jesus out of it. This is just a stupid list made by a stupid school system full of stupid people trying to justify their salaries. End of story.

      April 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  17. Bill Atwood

    As long as left wing liberals are around, there will be nonsense like "the banned word list" coming forward..How will, our babies ever learn to talk when the buffoons ban "mama", "dada, ,bite etc. There are so many blooming idiots making decision like this, it is time a national uprising similar to the "Tea Party" movement to take our country back.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • garc

      How many liberal creationists do you know? Most of us are endlessly amused by people who actually think dinosaurs and creationists coexist. How many liberal Jehovah Witnesses do you know? Most of us are incredibly frustrated by people who would rather die than receive blood products in a life-threatening situation. I know you guys are anti-education, but...try it sometime. You might like it; you never know!

      April 1, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • AGuest9

      If you don't keep them dumb, barefoot and pregnant, how will you ever control them?

      April 1, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • AGuest9

      Keep in mind that it isn't "liberals" who ban books from libraries.

      April 1, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • EGB2

      The "left wing liberals" aren't behind the ban on "dinosaur" (evolution), "divorce" (morality), or "Halloween" (paganism). That sounds like an right-wing, snake-handling fundamentalist initiative.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Mark

      You've gotta be kidding me! I highly doubt this is a liberal thing. Liberals are generally against censorship and things like this. Do liberals want people going around making racist comments toward each other? Of course not! But I highly doubt this is the work of fundamental liberals OR conservatives.

      Do you really think a liberal would want the word "dinosaur" on a list of words to be avoided on tests? If anything, it's the fundamentalist christian right that would be offended by such a word. And I'm not going to sit here and blame them either.

      You should really think about what you're saying before you just start coming to baseless conclusions. You literally just made things up on the spot. Your hatred of liberals is blinding you, my friend.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things . .

    April 1, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Atheist

      Spambot strikes again.

      April 1, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • James C Edgar


      April 1, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Ashley

      I totally agree that prayer changes things!!! Don't let any ignorant, faithless, and loveless human destroy your beliefs. Atheists can not trully love other. They will not be able to develop their character. God intended us to live for his purpose; atheists only care for themselves.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • guest001

      Prayer changes how you feel inside yourself, and how you then react to your environment. It's not a wishlist sent to a "higher being" . We need to ignore the Christian Fundamentalists who don't think for themselves, and the NY board of Ed. who wants to think for everyone.

      April 1, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  19. CM

    Isn't education SUPPOSED to challenge pre-conceived notions and push people into thinking about things in new ways? I doubt Edison got a light bulb by ignoring the world electricity and pretending nothing had been developed beyond wax and wick...

    April 1, 2012 at 7:44 am |
    • AGuest9

      Edison didn't sit there and say, "If I only had some pixie dust, I could make this work."

      April 1, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  20. 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 world 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 6:22 am |
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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.