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. basketcase

    This is quite possibly the most ridiculous news story I've seen in the past few weeks. I suppose I can understand avoiding a word like divorce, which could really cause a breakdown in a kid whose parents had just divorced (not that there would ever be any need to have divorce on a test), but some of these words are just insane. Rock 'n' Roll? Are we seriously still catering to the "Rock 'n' Roll is the devil's music" crowd?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  2. Paul

    The word "test" often invoked stress and fear to me as a kid. Can that be removed as well. Oh wait, so did exam. Damn, what can we call these things that score our children. Oops again, "score" should be removed as well. Let's just draw questions and answers.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  3. crowded

    OMG. I am a social liberal and I am not ashamed of that... but this is outrageous! What are we going to do next, avoid the word "father" because some kids don't have one. And "dog" because some kid might get emotionally upset remembering Fido who got squashed in the road? What do dinosaurs have to do with evolution anyway? I grew up in a fundamentalist church and I wasn't ever taught dinosaurs didn't exist, so that doesn't even make sense.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Eric Paul

      Excellent points!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jim

      Please stop being intelligent, the wacked-out atheists/agnostics here don't have reading comprehension skills and cannot understand your comments.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Thoughtpolice

      Yes religion taught me that Adam and Eve were the first people (cue laugh track) and frolicked with a snake. Being an atheist has nothing to do with ones ability to read, just our ability to read through the baloney that religion spews.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  4. fu9l

    pathitic religous weinnies trying to change the way we live and how are children are brought up this is about stupid there words we use so deal with it you fools yankees bout as dumb asa box of rocks

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • jim

      What is pathitic?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • basketcase

      Talk about dumb as a box of rocks...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Greg

      Read the article pal...even the "religious fundamentalists" think the list is crazy....I don't know one religious fundamentalist who thinks that dinosaurs didn't exist.

      This list was brought to you courtesy of the overly sensitive PC-Types who bend over backwards trying to avoid offending anybody...and end up offending EVERYONE with common sense. This list was NOT put together by religious groups, but by Bureaucratic Idiots who THINK they know what everyone wants.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Jim

      Notice all the "intelligent" and "rational" atheists/agnostics that are posting here aer incapable of comprehending the English language?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • LaTuya83

      How about you learn how to speak and spell before you go calling someone "dumb asa rock", LOL, what a tool

      March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Thoughtpolice

      Since you're being such a wordsmith, Jim, would you mind telling us what "aer" means? Ask one of the 3000 or so Gods if you need help with your spelling.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  5. crisfield3

    How much longer will the parents, teachers and people with common sense allow the PC BS to continue? When I was in Elementary school and read stories about Dinosaurs, plane crashes, boys being deserted on an island and anarchy ensuing, I was very entertained and not offended at all. Just because some of these "adults" (cry babies) are concerned over offending one person, doesn't mean our children should be denied! Eliminate certain words from tests, then what? A banned book list for school children to include "Lord of the Flies," anything to do with Narnia, "Hatchet," and I could go on forever. They already banned "The Catcher in the Rye." We can't let this BS continue! I have been offended every day beacause of these PC discussions, but no one seems to be concerned about that!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  6. Vinod

    He he he, I cant stop laughing. You may have to remove these words from Dictionary as well because Children will use it. Ha ha.
    Also What about bully kids using abusive words greeting each other

    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  7. mrglobal

    Is this the best education specialists can do ? The world is kicking our butt in science and math.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  8. Bill

    Dinosaurs upsets fundamentalists? Better leave off all math and all science then because that seems to upset them too.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Jim

      Christmas upsets atheists and agnostics? Better leave that off history, humanities, and the arts too!

      See how your little childish play-sword cuts both ways?

      Try acting intelligently and with maturity and people will take you seriously. Now go back to class.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  9. Pam T.

    Wake up America! The only word they want to eliminate is CHRISTMAS! All the others are smoke screens......
    We have seen this for decades... the destruction of the season when we recognize The Birth Of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by those how fear him.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • wruss

      Oh, please!!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Jim

      Your paranoia is deep and it bringing shame on the name of Jesus.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • shootmyownfood

      Shall we go back to celebrating the solstice? "Christmas" wasn't celebrated as the holiday it is until the northern European tribes of the time were absorbed into Christianity and still continued to celebrate/worship the preceding theology. Personally, celebrating the increase in the length of day seems more happy than celebrating the birthday of a martyr.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Jim


      Since we celebrate Christmas as a whole nation (religious & secular) and the vast majority of the people celebrate the holiday, it makes sense to recognize the holiday.

      If we were in Iran, it would be stupid to suggest that the nation should celebrate the religious holidays that haven't been celebrated by more than 1%-2% of the Iranian people.

      When there is a good portion of the population that celebrates the Winter Solstice and it has a history of being celebrated by a good portion of the population, you would have a point. But, you don't have a point.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  10. serdich

    6,000 years old Earth..means Jesus was close to a monkey...

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • hippypoet

      hence the nappy hair! lol

      March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • LOL

      "hence the nappy hair! lol"

      Isn't funny how the Christians actually changed his appearance to appease the whites.

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

      aaahhh...uneducated little children trying to look like grown ups...so obvious and sad that you are as mature (and ignorant) as 3rd graders...

      March 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  11. ithinkthat

    To be on the safe side, they should just ban all words and numbers. I'm not sure that thoughts should be allowed either.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Bill

      Yeah. Make it one of those point at the pictures things. And make the pictures of clouds, bunnies, and puppies.

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

    Poor test scores may offend the less-intelligent, so perhaps the tests should come already filled in with the correct answers to keep everyone happy. Also, science is pretty controversial, so we should avoid that altogether.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • ithinkthat

      I think you're onto something.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  13. Les

    Lets not offend anybody...the USA is danger of becoming like Europe, where every word is filtered through a politically correct haze.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • shootmyownfood


      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  14. JonfromLI

    As a New Yorker, this is just embarrassing. It's hard to pinpoint which political party would support this. The liberals are huge on separation of church and state, but it's the conservatives who believe in the whole creation story.

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

      The dumbing down of the human race. If we are going to take away Dinosaur, because they never really existed according to some numbskulls, shouldn't we also ban the word God? We know he was made up.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Jim

      Funny how the ban list includes words that those cerationists would never put on it.

      How many radical, right-wingers are there on the NYC school boards and committees? Probably very few so let us be intelligent enough to see the obvious – this is PCism run amok and is looking to appease the radicals on the left and the right.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Starman

      I don't think there are many–here or elsewhere–that deny the previous existence of dinosaurs. Some of the hard core fundamentalists seem to think they co-existed with humans. Think Fred and Barney.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  15. Nick

    Please keep religious fantasy out of our schools.

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

      Since there is nothing being inserted that smacks of religion, your paranoia and ignorance show through well right alongside your bigotry. How very tolerant and intelligent of you.

      Where is your outrage over banning "Halloween" or "Christmas" or "television"? We know the religious folk aren't for banning those terms. But critical thinking skills and tolerance that leads to intelligence doesn't seem to be your strong suit. You are one of the, "if I can be kinda snarky, I can look intelligent to my friends on the playground!" kind of people it seems.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Nick

      Wow Jim.. I wrote one sentence. Look at all the assuming and projecting you just did there. Might wanna get that looked at. You did... read the article, didn't ya?

      "Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were avoided because of faith-based concerns."

      But hey, don't let actuality get in the way of a good rant, right?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  16. Joe

    This is unbelievable, what is wrong with people in this country? Being PC has gone way overboard!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  17. SSampson


    I thought the public education system was supposed to teach facts and not be suppressed by ideology...

    Regardless... this is lunacy....No wonder th orld points and laughs...

    We claim to be the leaders in the free world.... and yet there is less and less free about this country every day. Every idea; every concept must be vetted by religious organizations and corporations...

    Twighlight isn't gleaming anymore... it has burnt out entirely

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  18. Ivan

    So much for higher learning in places like SCHOOL!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  19. Starman

    I guess we're in for another round of book burning.

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

      Yup, by the liberals who need to stop references to holidays and television!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  20. asdf

    "few paleontologists or geologists share this view"...FEW??? Tell it like it is, CNN – NOBODY with a fully functioning brain believes the earth is only 6,000 years old. Evolution aside, to think the Earth is 6,000 years old is to ignore provable facts and reality. Its upsetting that our education system believes its appropriate now to provide safe harbor to ideas that run directly counter to educating.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:51 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.