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. lastofall

    Such a concept is for the manipulation of thoughts, so that the reader's thoughts cannot expand beyond the determinate factor.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  2. Colin

    The super stupid have every right to be just that, super stupid. Let's face it, it's not their fault they believe in sky-fairies, men coming back to life, magic, mind reading gods and a 6,000 year old Universe. They were themselves indoctrinated as children. What I object to, however, is where they want us to dumb down the education system to comport with their late Iron Age mythological mumbo-jumbo.

    We can't stop the generation to generation propagation of nonsense, but we can stop it from spreading horizontally.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Well stated.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • just sayin

      What an absolute moron to use a phrase like "sky fairy'. Some dead maggot came up with it so now every time it gets an opportunity the moronic Colin trots out the phrase. Your hero took a crap some time why don't you go play with that as well.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      The "righteous Lott offers his two vïgin daughters to the unruly crowd to due what they will to them.

      Genesis 19
      19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

      just sayin

      March 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      The penalty for räpe?

      Deuteronomy 22
      22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
      22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

      Notice, if the man is not caught räping there is no punishment reward. In that all is good! Riiiight!

      just sayin

      March 29, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Just two examples out very many from just sayin's "sky fairy" dictated book.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • Colin

      But JS, "sky-fairy" captures so nicely both the silliness of the idea of gods, saints and angels and the utter childishness of those who still believe in them. It is fast becoming my favorite expression in this area.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Colin

      So JS, did you hear about that pig of a man who got drunk and slept with his own daughter. What kind of an animal does that. Then he did exactly the same thing the very next night.

      Lott was a terrible man, wasn't he? I wonder why he is a hero in your Book of Bronze Age Fairytales.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    March 29, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Repetive TROLL

      March 29, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • just sayin

      Resplendent Truth

      March 29, 2012 at 7:30 am |
    • Philippians 1:9-11

      And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Your reptïtive statement explains one thing. The believers living in the bible belt must be praying to their vengeful god a lot for violent storms to smite the perceived sinners in that region of the country. Why else would tornado alley be bullseyed on the buckle of the bible belt. Nothing natural going on here, just superstïtious beliefs at work.

      Yep, prayer changes things. Wake up sheeple!

      March 29, 2012 at 7:59 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Are these 3 words the depth of your knowledge?

      They seem to be because this all you ever add to the discussion.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things

      March 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      You make my point for me. Thank you. You do not disappoint.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Jesus

      ~Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. 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.!

      March 29, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  4. WASP

    all i can say is.......WOW! really? they are worried about offending religious people. if religious people don't like what is being taught in school do what santorum did, home indoctrinate your children.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
  5. Iread D. Article

    "Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television."

    The author elaborated why the ff. words are banned, and these the reasons:

    Dinosaurs-The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

    Halloween-may suggest paganism.
    Birthday- may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays.
    Divorce- may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family.

    Rock'n'Roll, weeds, Hurrican, etc..


    I could never find the reason why they ban "RELIGION" and CHRISTMAS. Oh, I think we all know the reason why but the author has been too bias to mention it in his article. Way to go Brian Vitagliano.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:38 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Wake up sheeple. The New York Post is a tabloid owned by non other than RUPERT MURDOCK, just like the Washington Times.

      So "we" are running scared because of Murdock "suggesting" that the word dinosaur might hint at evolution

      I would say LOL, but this is really a sad comment the sheeple "we've" become.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  6. Prometheus

    Don't worry my brothers and sisters. It will happen soon.

    One day, the plagues of ignorance perpetuated by religion will be little more than memory.

    One day, it will be the enlightened, and not the charlatans of the world, who will guide humanity into an era of peace and prosperity.

    One day, we will evolve. And through our evolution will come a peaceful, yet steadfast and stern, intolerance for bigotry.
    Religion will fade into history. It will be remembered as a crutch for the weak. Our children will be taught that it was a path to power for snake oil salesmen. The countless humans who fell victim to religion's false promises and immoral teachings will be pitied. And the victims of those victims will be mourned.

    In remembering religion's former prevalence, our children will feel embarrassed, ashamed, and angered. They will be angered at the injustice of so much hindered progress.

    So, fear not! my brothers and sisters. We shall prevail! Everyday we gain more knowledge. And no matter how many children religion's victims turn out (despite the warnings of over-population, famine, and pollution), we will educate them. The children of religion's victims will learn to honor the reason and logic their brains are capable of performing. They will naturally, although slowly, conclude that their parents were misled and misled them in turn. And they will refuse what their parents could not; to indoctrinate their own children. And they will refuse to indoctrinate the poor and hungry in third world nations. Instead, they will join us in promoting secular values worldwide. Together, we will lift all people out of poverty and despair and ignorance.

    Through advances in science we will minimize the pain and suffering of all living things and prosecute those who mean harm to our world.

    It will not be easy. It will not come quickly.

    But the beginning is coming.

    One day, it will happen soon...

    March 29, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • Phizzin'

      Prometheus, I will be praying for your dark soul. Enlightened as you think you are, you are sadly mistaken.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  7. OldAsDirt

    Ban Ostrich – an administrator who'd rather have his head in the sand than deal with reality.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:17 am |
  8. Karloff

    Here's a word the NYC DOE cherishes: stupidity.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:13 am |
  9. p-body

    this is the opposite of what we have to do. teach a brief summary of modern events and then work your way back. and then forward again for the section taught in each grade. dont ban anything, just open up everything equally and take a outsider's approach or agnostic view where science could be the truth but take parts of science(quantum physics that says that each religion could be right but it is also unlikely any of them are) and let everyone choose all of the options equally. that is the teaching agenda of a perfect world for all religions and beliefs

    March 29, 2012 at 5:11 am |
  10. ngc1300

    OMG. I weep for you, America.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:02 am |
  11. MOCaseA

    "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."

    Wow... He said it...

    March 29, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  12. donn edmunds

    OK lets band the words muslim, arab and islam as they call into mind horrible events by people without tolerance or mercy
    esp band 9-11 that has to be banded
    lets protect our children from anything we dont agree with or think is correct
    so when history repeats itsself we can point our fingers and play the blame game

    March 29, 2012 at 4:54 am |
  13. Schadenfreudean Psychologist

    Ah, the 'morality of ignorance,' again - What they don't know can't hurt them, right? If you don't tell children what a prophylactic is, they won't bother to pick up and play with the used ones they keep discovering in the alley behind their apartment building, right?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:48 am |
  14. Strazdas

    Wow, just wow. to think we were going forward, not backward in evolution. why must some people, leaders of education board no less, totally turn off their brain at work?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Actually, there's no concept of direction in evolution, just differential reproductive success. There's no 'forward' or 'backward' involved.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:24 am |
  15. Lenny Bruce

    "If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses."

    No, it has nothing to do with the article, but I just ran across it and got a giggle from it.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:00 am |
  16. bill

    Just more nanny-state nonsense....we need to stop sheltering young people from the real world. Life is not happy all the time, and ignoring reality will not make it go away. If we continue to treat young people like we are now all that will be here in the future is a nation full of people that are unable and/or unwilling to think for themselves.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:34 am |
  17. woohoo

    Let's bring our children up to avoid everything uncomfortable. Especially those horrid dinosaurs.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:32 am |
    • bill

      Right...we, as the intelligent portion of society, should stop using the word child. That word has become a description for a second class citizen in this country. People are people regardless of age, and if treated with respect will, in most cases, return it. If we continue to treat young people like fragile little snowflakes there will be no society in 20 years.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:38 am |
    • woohoo

      Hey Bill, I was being sarcastic. Get out much?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:40 am |
  18. Mikey

    It's more important to shield our young from the real world than it is to prepare them for it. Hopefully a sizable portion of the test is about Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy also.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:31 am |
    • Badda Bing

      And Jesus

      March 29, 2012 at 3:52 am |
  19. Ian328

    Just to be clear NYC is banning the use of 'dinosaur' on standardized tests in order to avoid offending people who think The Flintstones was historical fact.


    March 29, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • WASP

      @lan: i'm curious how the NYC BOE plans to teach kids about dinosaurs if they can't say dinosaur. lmfao " ok kids we are going to learn about ________ they lived either 65 million years ago or we lived with them 6000 years ago."

      March 29, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  20. Jim

    New York City Board of Education...trying their best to make the Kansas Board of Education look somewhat normal.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:25 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.