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. Skeptic

    Does the word, "moron" appear on the list? They should ban it in self-defense.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Nonimus

      LOL +1

      March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  2. 1benza

    Rock n' Roll! Who listens to that dreadful noise?
    Maybe NYC DOE is attempting to cash in on the retro shows like Mad Men?

    March 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  3. Cory

    IIf you are distracted by the wording on a standardized test, you are probably shouldn't be going to college.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  4. Joe

    Did they ban B U L L $ H I T as well!!!

    March 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Camelenema

      Obviously not. Because then there would be no board of "education"

      March 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  5. Nunya

    New York shouldn't be focusing on banning those words but getting kids to be able to properly pronounce those words!

    March 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  6. Aezel

    If you are taught revisionist pretend history by your religiously zealous parents, and therefore can't perform well on a standardized test when you are confronted by reality, yes YOU ARE INTELLECTUALLY IMPAIRED, and you deserve to perform poorly on a test of actual knowledge based on reality.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Jim

      Since the article makes it clear that the religious folks are against this policy put forth by the secular "educators" and you have missed that completely, you must be a product of a good, liberal schooling. Your inability (or unwillingness) to actually read, consider and understand what the article says before popping off some ignorant, bigoted and stupidly erroneous comment leads intelligent people to conclude that you are an ignorant zealot who fancies himself/herself as far more intelligent than he/she is.

      Now go back to the 5th grade and learn how to read and comprehend the written word.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  7. Imadumaz

    Somebody pleaz play George Carlin's "soft language in America" to the school board. Really, we gotta make everyone feel at ease, no distractions (re: 'cause we want good scores to get the Fed money for 'NCLB') America = overly sensitive nation = sissy [whoops, may offend someone with that, please retract.]

    March 28, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  8. Emma Goldman

    This is not aout Left or Right – this is just about damn foolishness.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Buenaventura Durruti

      Si Senora! Government at its dumbest.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  9. Old guy

    I didn't see 'reality' anywhere on the list. I assume that is banned too?

    March 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  10. Sarah

    Oh-crying-out-loud!!! Stop worrying so much about offending people and get back to teaching!!! This is why every other nation is outranking us in education!!!

    March 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • momoya

      This isn't about teaching, it's about a government standardized TEST.. The teachers can use any words; the standardized test can't because of concerns over testing anxiety.. I see no problem.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  11. Patriarchae

    If you're daft enough to believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted and that the earth is 6,000 years old, then you frankly deserve to be offended and ridiculed. Schools have no time to waste with creationist garbage.

    But anyway, on the topic of censorship as a whole, it is an outrageous irony. They censor words because a few in our diverse melting pot of culture may get "offended," but sheltering them from these "offensive" things only serves to further divides between us. So what if Jehovah's Witnesses may get "offended" by the word "birthdays"? They live in a country where the majority of people celebrate birthdays so they HAVE to learn how to deal with it and grow some skin. They have no choice.

    Just pathetic.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Helvetica

      I agree. Why not just ban the phrase "Jehovah's Witness?"

      March 30, 2012 at 12:38 am |
  12. dumbingdown

    This is EXACTLY why college degrees aren't worth a hill of beans – at least at the BA level. And a high school diploma – that's kiddy school. Too many kids entering college because society wants them to go – yet they are not truly, truly academically bright. College is a business and the lower grade levels keep churning new customers to the collegiate level.

    You need an MA or a Ph.D. to even get a name.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Michael

      The funny thing is half of all PHDs are people from other countries who immigrated here....but now the word is they are moving back to their homelands so the US is beginning to feel the pinch of becoming dumber and dumber. I honestly don't expect to get beyond a BS in college once i'm out of the Army and begin college in San Diego this Fall, but i'm sure as hell more intelligent than half of the people with those degrees already myself being 23 years old.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • NKP

      Michael I find that hard to believe, if your so smart why did you join the military? the other kids at least had that much common sense

      March 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • OH_CHRIST!

      Perhaps Michael joined the military to get finacial assistance with obtaining his higher education. Please understand that just because a person comes from a lower income bracket does not automatically make them less intelligent. I also chose the same path 20 years ago and have never regretted the lessons learned and experience gained. I respect anyone who is willing to serve their country as a means to better themselves.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • swaflyer

      @NKP Who do you suppose should join the military and protect the freedoms you enjoy? How about a little respect for the people putting their lives on the line so you can sit at home and insult them. Thank you for your service Michael.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  13. seth bullock

    My head is about to explode.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • JCT

      that's just graphic. I'm terribly offended and think we need to ban the word "explode".

      March 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  14. Snow

    Reminds me so much of this cartoon I read.. In 1950s, when a kid brought home an F, the parents yelled at the kid for not working hard.. but in 2000s when a kid brings home an F, the parents yell at the teachers for not doing their job right..

    Consequence? that generation put a man on the moon.. this generation runs behind lady gaga..

    March 28, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  15. Malaka Shakalaka

    Whateva.....So stupid.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  16. Why Use Facts

    The word "test" makes many students feel uneasy, we should ban the word "test" from all tests!!

    March 28, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Kana

      Maybe we should just ban tests and school.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  17. AZ Wildcat

    Here comes the American Taliban squealing about their religious rights – the right to hate, the right to discriminate, the right to kill in the name of God...

    March 28, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
    • Billy

      and yet this kind of garbage is right from the libtard playbook, so blow it out your azz loser

      March 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • Alex in NJ

      You do have the right to hate. You are clearly exercising it right now. You are obviously just as big a bigot as those who chastise. Also seriously do not recall anyone claiming a right to kill. Weirdo.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • dumbingdown

      Yup! We may be chasing the Taliban "over there," but in reality.... we have folks RIGHT HERE who would implement the SAME laws – including what type of music coul be played / what to wear / what seasons to wear things / art – music – etc. etc.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm |
    • Jim

      Readng such ignorant, hate-filled, lying drivel from AZ would be entertaining if it weren't so pervelant as a result of the type of school system that wants to eliminate the words "christmas" and "dinosaur" from tests.

      You are th Taliban – ignorant, hate-filled and needing to demonize others so you can feel vindicated in your own reality-free mind.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • swaflyer

      Here is a prime example of how belief in imaginary gods and events hurts our society as a whole. If reality offends them maybe it is more important that they grow used to it and learn what reality is than it is for us to pretend their crazy unsupported beliefs are valid or avoid the topic all together.

      The article suggesting "young earth" is a valid theory indicates the author is not familiar with what a scientific "theory" is. Perhaps too many words were avoided in the course of their education preventing them from learning what the actual meaning is. Here is some education for you:
      Theory- A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena. Theories that are accepted by scientists have been repeatedly tested by experiments and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  18. I wonder how many people get paid to come up with policies like that?

    "Young Earth creationists . . . say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old" Allrightythen.

    "The word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses". Funny; the phrase "Jehovah's Witnesses" offends me. That should be banned too.

    "the term "Rock 'n' Roll" was on the "avoid" list." Actually, Rap and Hip Hop are on my avoid list.

    "The Department of Education also advised avoiding references to types of food, such as pepperoni" – that's pretty darn weird!

    I am glad they banned "Christmas", though. I'm sick of what nutsi right-wingers have done to that fricking holiday.
    Mark Twain is proven correct: "God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board."

    March 28, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Moncada

      Christmas was originally to celebrate Jesus' birthday, you have a choice to celebrate or not.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest


      Christmas was assimilated into catholic dogma in an attempt to convert the roman populace into accepting it.

      March 28, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • ffff

      Christmas is actually a pagan holiday....

      March 28, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • Patriarchae

      Hahahaha. Why is it that so many Christian's don't even know the history behind their most cherished holiday? Talk about ignorance. Perhaps Moncada is one of the products of this fine NYC school system! Lol!

      March 28, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Well here is the truth

      "Christmas" was originally a usurpation of "Saturnalia" and other pagan Winter Solstice celebrations. Many of the traditions associated with Christmas, like gift-giving and Christmas trees, are actually from those pagan traditions and not from Christianity. The celebration of Jesus' birth was not done for 350 years after he died – it has not important to early Christians.

      Many Protestant groups refused to celebrate it as it is unBiblical – this includes the Puritans and other early settlers – yup, Christmas is not really an American Christian tradition. It was even outlawed in Boston, thanks to these religious groups. It was not celebrated in the North until after the Civil War (it was considered sinful), and did not become a Federal holiday until 1870.

      So remember – until recently, the most ardent opponents of Christmas were Christians!

      March 28, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Glad 'Christmas' is banned? You must be the biggest m.oron! It's a federal/state holiday in the U.S. !

      March 28, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Get some reading comprehesion. It was banned BEFORE it was a federal holiday, because the fundamentalists of that time saw it as unbiblical. Here's a history lesson for you. Christmas was banned in boston from 1620 till about 1850.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • awakenedaquarius

      Actually a lot of the Christian holidays are derivative from pagan holidays. For example: Easter is actually derived from Ostara which is based around the spring equinox. the idea was to celebrate Easter on the Sunday closest to the full moon after the equinox which is March 20th or 21st (depending on who you ask). Christmas is based on Yule which is the winter solstice (December 21st). You get a lot of your symbolism in both holidays based from the pagan roots of them. After all, how do you go from Christ's resurrection to eggs and bunnies? Easy! Ostara's symbology of rebirth and spring. Why would you use the evergreen tree for Christmas? Easy- it's the symbol of the undying life that carries us through the winter that originates from Yule.

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

      Awakened....you have no idea what you are taking about!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Sorry Brad

      I actually would have to say the same to you. Awakened is quite right.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • AP001

      Why this country was found by Christians?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Wrong

      WRONG. Christmas was a pagan celebration to the sun god, false religions took the celebration over and called it christmas. Christmas has NOTHING to do with Jesus or his birthday. Jesus did not celebrate his birthday and in fact condemned the birthday celebrations mentioned in the bible. Jesus said to give glory to god alone and not man, certainly not a whole celebration just for one person. That would be selfish and bringing undue attention to yourself. So no, birthdays are not acceptable scripturally.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  19. Pig in a Poke

    Wt? Now the liberal elites want to sensor or spoken words ? These leftists have now approached the level the facist Nazi party. What books will they be burning tomorrow ? Absolutely disgusting.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Jenny Zee Fan

      Down in Texas we worry about conservative elites who try to set educational agendas..

      March 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Camelenema

      All fanatics are a problem. That's why I believe in the special forces motto: kill them all, let god sort them out. (and if you don't see the irony here, well you're probably a product of the NYC board of the uneducated)

      March 28, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Lulu

      Wise up there is no Left and Right, they are one in the same. We have all been fooled for too long, let it go and pay attention.

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

      Please provide SOME evidence that this is somehow a part of a liberal agenda before making such a claim.

      April 1, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  20. Moncada

    Oh America, where using "Christmas" is wrong on tests but killing unborn children is okay.

    March 28, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • The Scantrons are made out of people!!!!


      March 28, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Welcome to Jew York City, where it has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • cocopuf

      That is what he*l is for.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
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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.