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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. ScortchDearth

    As a Pagan, I am offended that the word "Halloween" offends people. However, as the word "Halloween" means "All Hallows Eve" and is, in fact, Christian, I am also offended by the word "Halloween."
    Therefore I demand it be replaced by the word "Samhain" (which is actually pronounced "sow-wain" but mispelled because those darn Celts never got the hang of phonetic spelling).
    There...have I offended everybody?

    April 2, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  2. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things
    Prayer changes lives

    April 2, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Primewonk

      Not for amputees

      April 2, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • just sayin

      The amputee issue has already been addressed and you know it. If you do not remember being shown the error of your ways perhaps you might consider you are not mentally competent enough to comment. God bless

      April 2, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Zeus

      That is why I pray to Zeus everyday.

      April 2, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Primewonk

      Sorry just sayin, but no. You spin things in order to justify your god being a putz.

      " He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20

      April 2, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Jesus

      Still spreading your lies. No it doesn't. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!

      April 2, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • just sayin

      Yes it do

      April 2, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  3. Kacy

    They forgot the word IGNORANCE...

    April 2, 2012 at 5:16 am |
    • Dr Zaius

      Perhaps the words, "Department of Education" should be banned.

      April 2, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  4. getreal

    great shame that the usa is manifesting its decline through such narrow minded policies, what u r seeing on the micro level in NY is that which has already manifested itself through the years in policies of the macro goverments (fed + state), this is leading to the complete and utter decline of what was one of the true open societies for people to be openminded.....my advice to the people of america ...stop living your lives concerned about offending other people...get real and debate issues and confront reality...... as for the religious conotations in these decisions.....there is no terminology in the english language that can be suitably used to describe these approches....why dont they apply the fed policy of separating religion from these typre of decisions

    April 2, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  5. Brett

    This very story offends me. Who do I go cry to?

    April 2, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  6. CG

    Unreal. Absolutely unreal.

    April 2, 2012 at 5:07 am |
    • Henry

      Agreed CG. I just shook my head after reading this.

      April 2, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  7. seanmom

    Let's ban the New York City Department of Education.

    Right after we dismantle the federal education monopolistic monstrosity.

    And put the dinosaurs back.

    April 2, 2012 at 4:33 am |
  8. Paulie

    This is what Philip DeFranco would call "the pussification of our nations youth" and I couldnt agree more. Quite frankly Im disturbed by this PC nonsense. What happens when these kids become adults and find out they dont live in a fantasy world?

    April 2, 2012 at 3:01 am |
    • truthordare7

      Next words to be cut: intelligence , grandma, pet, race, zimmerman. True story.

      April 2, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  9. eville11

    HA.... yet another obvious case of reverse evolution! Darwin was sooooo freaking wrong about survival of the fittest and adapting to environment. More like adapting to your common denominator; low to middle intelligence and lack of sense. Lets not upset little Jimmy during his test, he's got enough problems thinking about the subject at all anyway. Americans are becoming weak and spineless and the teachers and schools aren't helping one bit. I hate using the term, stupid, but well it certainly clarifies this story. I hope I don't upset anyone.

    April 2, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • eville11

      Pepperoni?? pepperoni? Rock and Roll? Distraction? A word in a test is going to distract the kid, and he's/she 's going to fail because the word dinosaur was in the test, or no, Rock n Roll, They're not distracted by the bugger eating kid next to them or the sound of gunfire down the street.... you want to measure their blood pressure and have a short meditation pause before each test as well? A test altered outcome because of birthday? I don't care if you believe people were hatched from eggs and have eternal souls that are spun from strands of silver thread... but that's just ridiculous.

      April 2, 2012 at 2:48 am |
    • eville11

      The NY city dept of Ed. has now banned the words smart, intelligent, productive, cost effective, as to not upset or distract their dept. workers and management.

      April 2, 2012 at 2:53 am |
  10. genious L

    一二三四五六七, China is better than America

    April 2, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  11. Ted

    Have the PC people gotten completely stupid? Don't you people know that the only people in the world who are going to be bothered by the word "pepperoni" is the PC people? Who have you people the right to decide what is or isn't going to offend someone? Don't you realize that it's your stupid ideas that are offensive? Now, get back to giving the kids an education instead of teaching them how to be stupid!

    April 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Mark

      I totally agree. That is overdoing it and only raising issues that need to be explained about certain stupid adults and their line of thinking. The kids probably know more about these idiots than the idiots know about themselves and the world around them. Welcome to 2012.

      April 2, 2012 at 1:24 am |
    • genious L

      I am a genious!

      April 2, 2012 at 2:00 am |
  12. Eileen

    I have a better solution. Just ban ALL standardized tests and let good teachers TEACH the skills that this generation needs to be innovative, capable and enthusiastic! Check out that Finland does not test kids to extinction but prepares them for the real world and are very successful at it!

    April 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  13. Butch

    Oh my! It's taken a long, long time for us to learn to walk erect. Now, this, talking correctly. Maybe we can just use acronymes. How about sports teams, and honest to goodness extraterrestrial "Aliens".

    April 1, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • truthordare7

      sorry, Aliens is next to be banned. So is erect, walk, and cat. I think the cat thing is for the witch references that offends two people in new york.

      April 2, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  14. jcinpv

    Instead of deciding which words to avoid in a test for fear of abusing someone's sensitivity or letting them go astray with their slanted interpretation of the world, maybe it would be better if the education department put a little effort into educating children on the more "correct" use of words in the context they are meant to have – according to elders who should know better.
    Oh, wait a minute! First we have to find elders who actually know better. Sorry.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  15. jcinpv

    Why don't we just ban all of science and live according to what the bible says is supposed to be true? Then we can all give up cars, planes, trains, everything electric and electronic, modern medicine, modern farming – and let's not forget that we should be using clam shells instead of silver or copper coins.
    In no time at all the world population will dwindle down to thousands from billions and every human left would be more manageable by priests, pastors, and self-appointed prophets – as long as we keep horses around to carry the "good word."

    April 1, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  16. Lia

    Common sense has left the world. Really? People can't think for themselves anymore? "Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed". Thank you Ben Stein for helping us see the stupidity of the world.

    April 1, 2012 at 10:03 pm |
  17. Jesse

    I heard that they were going to cover all the kids in bubble wrap, but they were worried that the word "wrap" would offend Egyptians who still practiced mummification. Pretty sad state of affairs, this country of ours.

    April 1, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  18. Ron

    Secularism is dying in Turkey, and that seems to be helping the Turkish economy, and the nation itself. Therefore we should look up to the Turks.

    April 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
    • PPJr

      Let's look at Saudi Arabia then!

      April 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Eli

      Statistically the most prosperous and peaceful countries on earth are the most secular, conversely the most religious counties are far more impoverished and violent. This is a fact.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Sam

      So, do you think our economy will improve if we all dance around a totem pole?

      April 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • jcinpv

      And who told you that? I'm quite sure it's not something you learned in high school or college.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • just sayin

      Truth and life application come to mind. Prayer should be in all schools. Thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college degree.

      April 2, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  20. Joey

    Out come the anti-theistic 'scientists' again who were taught a half-an-hour worth of 'evolution' in their public school science classes and feel that they now know enough to insult the Bible (which statistically they're unable to read). For a country filled with ignorance of math & science, there sure are vast numbers of 'scientists' as soon as religion or morality are discussed. Pretty much like a country filled with obese alcoholics who are die-hard sports fans. St. Thomas Aquinas had more scientific knowledge in his pinky than the lot of atheists trolling on a Sunday afternoon, yet he was a man of great faith. I'll let you guess whose opinion I value.

    April 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Eli

      You are very angry. Sadly it only takes a 30 minute science lesson to debunk the bible in its entirety. Wasn't st.thomas booted from the church because of his love of science? Aquinas was studying science 800 years ago and his big scientific claim was that storms were natuaral not god being angry. A claim that angered the bishops if my memory serves me right. My left nut has more scientific knowledge then a million st.thomas pinkies.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Joe

      My real school teachers were more convincing than my Sunday school teachers. Nobody told me "and that's why the bible is wrong" (other than some annoying atheist friends). Stop believing in fairy tales and interpret the bible for yourself, take out the good messages, and realize that you don't need mysticism and promise of the impossible to be a decent human being.

      April 2, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • seanmom

      Interestingly, a greater proportion of "hard science" students and professors believe in God than those in the "social sciences." Oddly, the social scientists base their claims on what they believe the "hard sciences" teach.

      There is no-one more ignorant than a college-educated Marxist non-scientist talking about science.

      April 2, 2012 at 4:38 am |
    • Sam

      Could one of you "hard science" students who believe in God, answer my question?

      How long can a statue bleed?

      Thanks in advance!!

      April 2, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
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