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. theocratic democracy

    What is the USA...a theocratic democracy like Iran? Why do they teach Christian religious carp in public / secular schools? Hindus, Muslims, Atheists, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Agnostics, Spiritualist, seculars, etc NONE of these people want to sing those ridiculous songs which ruin a great winter season, on top of having to drive by all those cacophony shrubs which bring down property value for non-Christians. The weirdest thing is that Christians are a religious MINORITY! The 6 billion of us wonder about the 2 billion Christians, and their narrow philosophy. Why is this antiquated and irrelevant doctrine still being taught in schools? Teach Christianity in Church where it needs to stay! Get it OUT of the schools, and terminate the bigotry and racism that Christians show to the rest of us who are not interested in turning back the clock to the dark ages. Christianity is for Churches, not work or school.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • DavidLevinson

      To which school district are you referring? I haven't heard about these incidents where non-Christian students are being forced to sing Christian songs.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • MXD

      And there are 7 billion people in the world, not 8. Your facts are as faulty as your reasoning.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Beadles

      what is a "cacophony shrub"??????

      March 29, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  2. IdiotBox

    I don't have a problem if your religious beliefs require you to believe that humans lived with dinosaurs a la Flintstones. But really....tailoring testing like this is not only harmful....it creates a distorted sense of reality for these students when presented with real world issues outside of school. I understand the need for more sensitivity with proper word choice.....however, pepperoni and birthdays shouldn't be one of them. Just b/c someone doesn't believe in a particular holiday or belief or food product doesn't mean they won't be confronted with it in the real world. What's sad is that we're having this conversation to begin with.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  3. DavidLevinson

    It's a good thing that George Carlin isn't here to see this. His "words you can't say" routine would take several days to perform.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  4. Linnaeus

    Small-minded people have no business overseeing secular education. It subverts the intellectual resources of the US.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  5. HMP

    Why not stop teaching science altogether? After all, the fundamentalists referenced in the article don't believe in science anyway so why teach children, as it might upset their parents!

    Also, since math scares some people and part of the 'logic' for banning words is that they might scare people, let's ban math altogether. Hey, some parents don't like to read and watch trash TV instead. So, let's stop teaching reading. And if no one can read, we can save all that time teaching writing (how could you proofread yourself anyway –you can't read!)

    And let's get to the real agenda of the 'fundamentalists' let's fire all the teachers who are so obsessed with making a living (how dare they) and let's have America's kids home schooled by illiterate parents who can't even read their own holy books and therefore have to take the word of the preachers who spew their nonsense about what's in them, or what their God wants them to do.

    We don't need science to grow the country's wealth, to defend its safety. Kids can be taught to shoot guns and we won't need to learn to read to fly, kids can learn that from video games.

    Seriously, if you don't want to teach science in the classroom, learn only one topic: Mandarin. You'll need it when your overlord sticks his boot on your throat and barks orders.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • 343 Guilty Spark


      March 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Mike Orobona

      Mandarin has the word "man" in it. We'd better ban that too.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  6. angryersmell

    Why are kids these days leaving high school with no skills and no ability to cope with real world issues and responsibilities? I have no idea. Ok kids, now open your text books to page 541. Today we're going to discuss improved methods for studying those larger-than-normal swirling rain storms that come from the ocean when it's warm season.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  7. rich

    The continuing dumbing down of America's children. No wonder we rank so low in world education standards.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  8. LaTuya83

    This is scary, not only is the dumbing down in America happening in our schools but in our society, this goes hand in hand with vilanizing the successful i.e. the 1%. I'm Cuban and this is what happend there instead of Castro improving conditions for everyone he just made everything worst for all equally, the successful became poor and the poor stayed poor or even worst. Guess what we are not all equal, but is not our skin color or ethnicity that does not make us equal, it's our brains and motivation, there are lazy people and there are motivated smart people.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • MXD

      Well said. The reality is that we're NOT all equal – something our society is, for some reason, afraid to say, or even realize. My impression is that the vast majority of people who are wealthy – however you define that – are smarter, harder-working, and better disciplined than the rest of us, and the material gains they've realized are well deserved. I work in IT in Investment Banking and the vast majority of people have no clue how how hard \ long these bankers work. 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, for 20 years. They sacrice a LOT to get what they have. Most very successfull people make that tradeoff. They deserve what they have. I vote for a flat tax. For everyone.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  9. sailor12

    These people need to get a life and help your kids study the damn words

    March 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  10. TR6

    Reminds me of a few years ago when some educators wanted to add classes in ebonics

    March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. Harlan B.

    To quote the great Doug Stanhope,
    "If you're offended by any word, in any language, it's probably because your parents were unfit to raise a child."

    March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  12. J Richards

    Pepperoni? Who doesn't indulge in pepperoni? This whole story has got to be an April Fools joke.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  13. Brian

    Some mornings I think I'm reading an SNL script than the latest news. The irony is that the kids are taking tests to get smarter, while the test is getting dumber. I feel like I went to sleep and woke up 30 years later and the World got retarded. I'm sorry. "challenged." The World got challenged.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  14. mountains to climb

    This would be hilarious if it wasn't so absurd. The banning of pepperoni....hmmmmm. What about broccoli? We all know kids would rather eat snot than broccoli. Don't want the poor little darlings to be traumatized. The only thing more absurd than this is that we the taxpayers pay over handsomely to prevent these cretins from doing a real job, so they come up with this garbage. I would expect a better job done by high-school dropouts on minimum wage....ohhh wait they couldn't carry this out because they would have been indoctinated to not using half the English language. New York, if you don't vote out these left wing doctrinnaire morons that run your city that lead to this educational nonsense, you will get what you deserve.....nothing!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  15. Roger

    Words escape me, except one. Morons.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  16. Steve

    This is just so....STUPID!!!! I personally dislike rodents, so my kids school better not use the words "MICE" or "RATS" or I'lll file a lawsuit against the school!! Yea, and my wife is sensitive to the word "HOUSEWORK" so they better not use that word either.

    Come on people, have we deteriorated so far? The next thing that will happen is the person who wins the race for the President will not be allowed to take office because there were people that voted against him...or her. WAIT, A FEMALE PRESIDENT IS OFFENSIVE TO ME!! I CAN"T TALK ABOUT THAT!! I BETTER SUE MYSELF!! Man, we are so STUPID!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  17. Pat

    By avoiding these words we are not preparing these kids for the real world.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  18. mecatfish

    A star that we know is more than 6000 light years from earth is PROOF that the universe is more than 6000 years old. Creationists must have inhereted too many chimp genes from our ancestors.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • nik

      Hilarious 😀

      March 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • TR6

      NO! the speed of light has been slowing down ever since god created it (eye roll)

      March 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Mr. Izz

      I understand the point you're trying to make... but you should make it better. They are under the impression that the Earth is 6,000 years old, not the Universe.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • sillywordsmith

      While I agree with your conclusion, which is that the earth is over 6000 years old, the light from the star doesn't prove it. It proves that the star was there 6,000 years ago, not something that it's light is bouncing off of. Had the earth been created this morning, we would still see that light tonight.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Trey

      Just as if you lived in the 1480s a KNEW the earth was flat.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Maya


      March 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • MXD

      @sillywordsmith – I think that Creationsists believe that the Universe is only 6,000 years old. If that is what they believe, and the scientific community is correct about the speed of light, we would so no stars in the sky that are over 6,000 light years away. But that's not the case. Of course, modern science, the same discipline who believes that the speed of light is 186,000 miles \ sec, believes that the Univers is 13.7 billion years old. Not sure if Creationists believe in anything modern science teaches us. Sounds like Creationists can't believe in the published speed of light.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  19. Mr.What?

    Hey I've a few words to ban. Journalism, Education, New York ( it might offend people who don't live there) Tolerance, Free speech and belief. Terrible words... they should all be banned. Oh wait... we should ban " Banned" " Censorship"..... oh man this list could get pretty long.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  20. MXD

    So this is now the New York City Dept of Education thinks is the best way to teach kids – by completely avoiding ANY topic or even WORD that might offend ANYONE? "Dinasaur"? SERIOUSLY? "Divorce"? So kids are to pretend that these things don't exist, because (in some cases) a measely 1% of the population might not LIKE that word? This is complete insanity and shows horrible judgement. As Professor Wineberg so correctly states, growth \ education occurs when you make someone go OUTSIDE of their comfort zone (within reason, of course). Surround someone with warm pillows and stick earplugs in their ears and they'll turn into a marshmellow. Congrats, New York Dept of Ed. You're failing.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 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.