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. Andrea Doherty

    Deliver me from educators. What we need is teachers.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  2. Jhen

    Honestly – it's not about banning words. It's not about political correctness. It's about distractions. Start talking about the physical anatomies of a woman and teenage male test scores drop. "If you squeeze, with 2 pounds of force, the left ..melon.. and with four pounds of force on the right ... melon ... how many pounds of force is there total?"

    Cmon people. No where does it say they avoid the words or stop teaching them. Someone's job, useless as it might be, is to go over words that could potentially distract *any* student from doing his/her best on a test. Not a big deal

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  3. watchtheborders

    So if a dinosaur had a large d ick which was important in presenting propgation of that species in an archeology course on pre-cambrian animals and their habitats for instance. Would the test state the following, and expect the student to get it correct?
    Name the animal that had a large ____
    1. ____
    2. ____
    3. ____
    4. ____
    5. None of the above?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  4. Andrea Doherty

    Why are people blaming religion for this??? Since when do Christians disapprove of Halloween, pepperoni, Rock & Roll and birthdays? (Yeah, some do, but seriously, this is a minority. It is the non-religious who are now imposing their beliefs on others..., Kids live in the real world. No wonder why they can't cope with anything if the word "dinosaur" throws them into an emotional turmoil. Deliver me from educators. What we need is teachers.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • watchtheborders

      Devout CHristian's should not be alarmed. They don't believe in dinosaurs, and neither does the Department of Erradication.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Sharon

      Sad thing is, the only "Christians" too many people know are the kerflooeys out on the fringes doing stupid things that the media covers. They haven't a clue that 99% of people who call themselves Christians heartily disagree with, disapprove of, and distance themselves from those kerflooeys and the unBiblical things they believe and do.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Jim

      It is ignorant folk like watch that make patently (and obviously) untrue statements about others out of stupid bigotry.

      Uneducated people make stupid decisions like this board is doing AND make ignorant statements like watch did.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  5. And CNN finds these words offensive...


    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  6. Sharon

    People, please READ the article. NO religious people fussed at all. The DOE is AFRAID they might. (Talk about cowards!) If the DOE people had done their homework–pardon the pun, they would have discovered that most religious people believe in dinosaurs and wouldn't be offended anyway. Visit http://creationmuseum.org/ and take a virtual tour.

    Sad, these kids won't at all be prepared for real life.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • watchtheborders

      If you don't believe in dinosaurs you are a dinosaur. I guess all those field trips to the Museum of Natural History will be cancelled. Do the students get to sing one million bottles of beer on the wall all day in class as a compensatory measure?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Jim

      You are attempting to reach people via intelligence and facts but, those you are attempting to reach obviously are not equipped or willing to act intelligently. Otherwise, they would have comprehended the author's words and would have responded quite differently.

      Remember, you aer try to communicate with those who claim higher intelligence and education levels. You must be patient with those who aren't intelligent enough to know how to read an article on CNN.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • SteveO

      @watchtheborders – The NYC DOE is mistaken; creationists do, in fact, believe in dinosaurs. Why does this article mainly focus on that one thing and the rest of the words are honorable mentions anyways? These people need to get out of their bubble and do some actual research like their high education trained them to do beofre they make idiotic decisions like this.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  7. Tom

    They don't want to evoke unplesant emotions? How about being fored to take a test, isn't that unplesant to most students? Maybe they should reconsider that as well...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  8. CDW

    W T F. That's all I can say. As it is, we are seeing so many children graduating from school illiterate, now NYC wants to compound the problem. I think the Education System Employees in NYC need to be replaced, and quick. Is this another case of 'No Child Left Behind'?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  9. harrisonhits2

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

    Absolutely ridiculous. Every kid I know love dinos and to cater to religious fundamentalists like this is absurd. Just because they don't want to believe there was a world or universe more than a few thousand years ago doesn't mean that kids shouldn't be taught about the real world and held back because these people want to live in a fantasyland.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Jim

      They aren't "catering" to "fundamentalists" at all.

      Are you going to complain that they are, "catering" to atheists by wanting to ban the word Christmas?

      The only one living in fantasyland is you (and others making idiotic and false claims about the religious folks).

      Now either you have the reading comprehension skills of a 3 year-old or you are just an ignorant and bigoted fool. For one trying to look intelligent, you have made a good case that you are an uneducated fool.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  10. Katie

    What a bunch of crap this political correctness is becoming. I've never heard of someones feelings being hurt due to something taught in school. Last I knew, "may" doesn't mean it has actually happen.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  11. Kana

    Maybe we should ban the NYC Board of Ed. I find them to be offensive.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  12. crabman

    hay N Y avoid this F#@K Y*U

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  13. risingaphroditenyc

    I think it's important to distinguish that these words are only banned from testing, not curriculum instruction. Students will still learn about these topics – the administration just does not want exceptional student knowledge (or lack there of) of these topics to skew the data they retrieve from their state tests.

    When I was teaching fourth grade in Harlem I often encountered students who had difficulty comprehending suburban/rural concepts such as farming, hunting or even shopping malls. If a testing passage referred to these ideas but did not explicitly explain them this severely effected student comprehension. If the goal of the test was to evaluate their comprehension or writing skills and not their knowledge of the topic, this lack of previous knowledge would make it difficult to figure out whether the student didn't have the skills read the text or simply didn't have the knowledge to create understanding.

    Similar issues would arise with students who have no experience with Christmas, Hannukah, Eid, or even dinosaurs – at least for the creationist home-school families. It would be like giving all adults a test on American Idol – some people believe in it, others don't. The test would produce vastly different scores based off a preference or practice, not imperative knowledge.This isn't about censoring what we teach students it is about getting the purist testing sample possible. That requires trying to ensure the knowledge base is as even as possible.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Jim

      Your well-written comment lacks fact and wisdom.

      1. A miniscule portion of the student body wouldn't know the words, Christmas or Halloween or dinosaur. Those kids are far from being home educated (which have a much higher education achievement level and assimilation ability than most of the public school students and all polls, tests and 20 year studies demonstrate this to be true) but are the result of kids living in a crack house. Even communists in the old USSR knew what Christmas is and weren't offended.

      If someone is offended by these words, they are in the well under 1% and should not be catered to. They should be educated butthis board seems to be just to pc even for the inventors and practioneers of pc, liberals.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  14. joe dokes

    Anybody who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old isn't playing with a full deck. If they believe that–and they have a college diploma–they should give it back! No need to stop there. They could start burning witches again. This retreat into the anicent past would be funny if it wasn't so dangerous to the rest of us.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  15. PD

    America... really?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  16. Tim

    Seriously folks? Time to take back control of this country and get these idiots out of office who would suport something like this. What a joke.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Mark

      Really? This is Obama's fault too? Go back to Faux News idiot.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Sharon

      What?! You mean Obama's the head of the NY DOE too? Amazing.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Jim

      Hey Mark,

      You seem to be one of those stereotypical partisan fools.

      Never was Obama mentioned or alluded too.

      But, in your immature, partisan fever (on top of your inability to cmoprehend basic English), you made the anti-Obama peoples' case for them.

      Your ignorance and biolerplate response was like a small child saying something that doesn't apply (even remotely) to the conversation.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  17. Chris

    This is by far the most arbitrary, idiotic attempt to enforce ignorance and stupidity that I have ever seen. Are we going to avoid "meat" because it might offend a vegan, or "farm" so we don't offent PETA. I men really, this takes the cake.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  18. Pat in IL

    So, is the kid who comes from a home of divorce supposed to cower in shame like it never happened? Are the museums supposed to throw out their fossils? Etc., etc. These people have gone way too far and are shutting out reality, just for a bunch of made-up, ridiculous reasons. They're uneducated and want to keep their kids (and ours) the same way.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Jim

      This makes one wish to transfer his or her kid to a school in TX.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  19. Really?

    A banned word list, really? How about banning the standardized tests which do absolutely nothing.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • benster

      Amen Matt, New York and California bring out unpleasant emotions in me, maybe we should have them banned from existance 😉

      March 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  20. Matt

    Really? We're going to put our kid's learning at a disadvantage to save a couple of idiots from having their feelings and emotions hurt? I'm pretty sure there's more to worry about in NY (let alone the country) than hurt feelings. This politically correct crap is getting absolutely out of control.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:36 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.