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. reason

    Thank you America for making our children stupid.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  2. Ian

    Pandering to religious zealots: The reason why you and your kids are so damn stupid.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Michael

      It's not the prayer that's helping the children, it's the sense of community and leadership.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Arthur Paliden

      Funny but you never hear an Atheist tell a young impressionable child that there is a possibility that they will roast in the fires of Hell for eternity.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:52 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 10:53 am |
    • just sayin

      Funny arthur but you just did.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • reason

      strange statement since all children are born atheists.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Arthur Paliden


      I always ask fundamentalist (creationist) types that if they ever contract rabies do they want to be treated as per the the treatment listed in the bible which of course comes from no higher power than the Word of God as he breathed it or by the product of modern science.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  4. ithinkthat

    Please tell me this is a joke.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      This is a joke

      March 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • Brian

      exactly, why stop at only 50 words.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • peridot2

      It's 29 March and not a joke.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  5. Mittens

    Calling "young earth" a theory is a misappropriation of the word theory.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  6. StinkyLu

    Ha! I just find this laugh-worthy. Like dinosaurs weren't real! Seriously people. This is so ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  7. Arthur Paliden

    This is great news. Now all the American companies that require an educated workforce will have to move their operations, jobs & money, to say Canada in order to find the educated work force that modern, non third world, economic growth requires.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  8. Norm

    This isn't terribly surprising. It's the logical extension of what's being going on in school systems across the country for the last 40 or 50 years. Schools wouldn't allow kids to bring birthday party invitations to school because the kids that didn't get one would be "hurt". "Competions were set up to ensure every child won because it would be a blow to their "self-esteem" if they didn't. Kids couldn't bring treats to school anymore because some might have a weight problem or some sort of food allergy. Some districts have banned holiday parties because,

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  9. lolwut

    I don't want to live on this planet anymore...

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  10. AmesIA

    I am offended buy the word "the". Oh no, I used it twice myself. I hate myslef now.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Brian

      keep it up, you just might qualify to get on NYC school board. you are not quite as ridiculous.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  11. Aaron

    How about we teach our kids (yes even the girls) to have some BALLS and not get offended by mere words. This coddling of our children is making worse and worse adults.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • hirisc

      This ^^

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  12. spoo

    lets remove september 11 from the calendar, now the year has only 363 days

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • guest

      i think you need to go back to school and count the days in the year. 365-1=364, not 363! but your point is well taken. we are a country of idiots

      March 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Guest

      What happened to the other day you are also removing?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  13. garc

    Can you think of any other first-world country that does this? America is a laughingstock in matters like this. And our insistence on giving everyone guns, then saying guns don't kill people. And in rolling back legislation on contraception. And in pretending there's no such thing as racism. And....

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • gran

      Since when is the US a first world country? Not for a while now. Our education system is so poor that we have to import many of our high-tech workers from all over the world. If we water down laws thatprotect women from violence, stop health care for low income people and all the rest of the right wing agenda, the world will finally see that the glory days of the US have been gone for a very long time.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  14. RIP

    This reads like it's an article from the Onion.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • reason

      So many of CNNs stories do lately

      March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • peridot2

      Yet it's not.

      This isn't right, but it's pandering to the Religious Right. What happened to the Separation of Church and State and Education? As a Christian, I'm sickened.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  15. Corrington

    We're raising/raised a big nation of crybabies.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  16. Jill

    Is there any evidence that children in divorcing families perform more poorly on tests with the word "divorce"? Or that kosher Jewish children perform more poorly on tests with the word "pepperoni"? Or that Jehovah's Witnesses children perform more poorly on tests with the word "birthday"? I would be most distracted and upset by words like "trees", "flowers", "sunshine", "play" and others that would remind me that I am trapped indoors taking a high-stakes test and thereby trigger my test-anxiety disorder. Also, as an orphan and former foster care child, I would be upset by any words about family. Foster children and children who've experienced the loss of one or more family members should definitely not have to be reminded of these losses during a test. So please ban all words related to the outside world and families.
    Really – there is just no end to offensive and distracting words! Maybe instead words should be selected for INclusion based on the prevalence of their use in society. Then we'd actually be testing whether our children are adequately prepared to understand and debate social ideas from each of their respective cultural backgrounds, religious ideologies, and personal experiences.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • gran

      You are right on every point. Personally, I object to the word "cookie" on a standardized test. It makes me hungry and I lose concentration, fail the test, and the rest of my life will be failure. lol

      March 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • anon

      You are so right. When I read the list – how Florida bans "wildfire" and "hurricane" – I was thinking "these are exactly the words that *should* be on the test!"

      March 29, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  17. CptStupid

    How about we ban the words Creation, Creationism, Creationist......Being politically correct has gone way overboard!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  18. Steve

    Really?!? Ban words because they might cause a distraction during a test of literacy and mathematical knowledge?

    Perhaps the students in question find things like words and numbers bring back bad feelings (horrible school days, bad teachers, and all that) and those should be eliminated from the tests as well.

    Here is a sure sign that stupidity and ignorance is on the up swing.

    As a side note: If you don't confront your fears, you will never achieve your full potential.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  19. Troy C.

    No wonder American school children are underperforming. They are being instructed by mealy mouthed cowards.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  20. anon-o-1

    It's censorship of the most insidious kind. New York is beginning the process of eliminating pragmatism and science from our public education curriculum. Let's not let the facts be taught to our kids? Maybe they should put out an RFP for a textbook that argues that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are real. Offend creationists? They should be rounded up and deported to the middle east for god's sake!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • peridot2

      It's tempting to agree with your wrong idea.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Kelly

      I have a few to add to your list of loaded words. How's about democracy? justice? equality? off the top of my head.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
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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.