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. ole1474

    Funny thing is I was going to go to NYC for my DINOSAUR themed BIRTHDAY this comming HALLOWEEN.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • just sayin

      Still can just keep it out of school tests

      March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  2. brettwier

    The US seems to be in a state of de-evolution... Pretty soon we'll make Iran look sophisticated!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • just sayin

      evolution is a theory not a fact

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • not sayin

      March 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      just sayin .. religion isn't even a theory ..

      March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  3. inewt

    No wonder public education in NYC is a failure

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
  4. REALLY???

    Just being sarcastic...

    Maybe we should ban the word "money" as some students might get upset that they don't have any.

    Maybe we should stop teaching math as some students might know how to balance a checkbook and get upset that they are not wealthy.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  5. Yoroshio

    What many do not realize is that there is a great difference between language used in teaching, which ought to push boundaries and inspire new ways of thinking, and language used in testing, which is meant to be as objective an assessment as possible. Avoiding controversial or emotionally loaded words in an assessment situation seems perfectly reasonable, no matter how ridiculous certain choices of proscribed words may seem to any one individual. The notion that this move represents a "dumbing down" of education would only hold if the words were banned from instruction as well as from tests.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Are you kidding

      "Dinosaur" is a species. They roamed the Earth some 65 million years ago. They no longer around to bother us, crush our houses, and eat our food. It is not a word that warrants an emotional response. The reason that it does create an emotional response in the minds of some is because their existence does not jibe with creationist fairy tale they were fed with. The solution isn't to pretend reality didn't happen, but to end the teaching of counter productive fairy tales. This is the education system we are talking about, it's purpose is to progress society and science so that we can live better lives as humans.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  6. agentzac

    Pandering to the ignorant and delusional...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  7. Shawn

    Now we are concerned about the inferences and relations of words that someone may come up with that would be potentially offensive to themselves? What the h*ll is going on with society in this country? Any number of inferences could be drawn from any number of words... Political correctness has gone wild!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  8. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  9. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Having anxiety over the word Dinosaur is exactly why Religion is a form of child abuse.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Crad

      You cant really be this ignorant

      March 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • just sayin

      Religion got nothing to do with it.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • agentzac

      It is abuse...all those preachers spewing their h3!! fire and brimstone non-sense to innocent children...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      I don't subject myself or my children to the threats of Deities .. so no, I'm not that ignorant lol.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • This is not the work of religion

      Christians very much embrace dinosaurs. This is not a Christian issue. It is apparently a liberal NYC education dept issue.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  10. beleef

    Let's just assign Dick and Jane readers to all grades. That will solve everything. Government education will be innocuous and ineffective. Even more so than it already is.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Brad

      Sorry but "dick" is too offensive to our adult population 😉

      March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  11. rick

    dinosaurs? really? dinosaurs? birthday? absurd.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  12. fritz

    This is what we have come to. Turning our kids into over sensitive moronic idiots. "What's a dinosaur? I dunno. They didn't teach us that in school. Said it would offend someone. Rock 'n' Roll? That's where you roll rocks around. I guess. A Hurricane? That's a female Himmacane. I think. Aren't they supposed to teach us this stuff in school?"

    March 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  13. relians

    how can we turn out creative, smart individuals from our education system when the people who make the tests are stupid?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  14. Joe from Ohio

    The extreme right is making its voice heard. We want to live in our made up fairy tale world. We don't care about facts or knowledge or science.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Dear nonbelievers

      Nothing to do with the extreme right. The "right" is not politically correct as the list is apparently trying to be. Conservatives, "the right", fundamentalists, etc do NOT support this. This is liberal educators.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Wilson

      Did you read the article? I doubt the "extreme right" would try to ban words like religion and Christmas

      March 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Sailor101

      Nothing was said about Right wing or Left wing extriemist...I do not understand how you jumped to this conclusion. Please explain yourself. Thanks

      March 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Rat

      Are you married to "Jake from State Farm"? There is not an "Extream Right" anything in NYC.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  15. JonnyJive5

    Teach all children the same thing regardless of their parents' beliefs. When they're old enough to decide what they believe they will tell you. Until then, treat them the same!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  16. face

    at first, I was thinking this is another act of politically correct abuses...but after careful thought, there is merit in this. Standardized testing is designed to provide unbiased evaluation of knowledge and skills, and not an evaluation of imagination. The examples of Florida removing hurricane and wildfires makes sense, as if one of the children had been involved with either of those two disasters, it may throw them off track and cloud their thinking on the remaining questions. Certainly this could also apply to divorce, religion, and Christmas. A regular classroom test could easily be adjusted on the fly if a teacher knows a question may cause undo stress to a student, but in a standardized environment, you need to consider all options.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • valsing

      Sooooo – no using the word snow, someone may have been stuck in an snowstorm. No using dance, some people oppose it. No using city, someone's parent may have been mugged there. C'mon!!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Lila

      It's time to stop putting the children in glass castles and let them being exposed to a variety of things. By wanting to not expose them to some realities, we are making the new generation weak and stupid. Of course, some have been exposed to natural catastrophies like wildfire or to things like divorce but that is part of life. Others will deal with illness or snake bite or earthquakes or poverty, etc. They are all unfortunate situations but are we going to cut everything that might perhaps disturb them? Especially with the "sceen generation", believe me, it's not a word in a test that will disturb them. Give the kids some credit, they are smart and they will learn to deal better with life if they are exposed at an early age to the real things of life... just like all the previous generations. Accomodation is good but you have to includ logics too.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Bruski

      The existence of dinosaurs is has nothing to do with religion. The fact is they existed. Do people think the bones magically appeared on earth. I don't have a problem keeping religion out of public schools. However; we need to teach our children scientific facts in order for them to compete in the world economy. If we don't do that our children will be at a great disadvantage.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  17. John

    Hey folks New York is a democratic town. Blaming this on Glen Beck or Sara Palin is absolutely lame. NYC is Liberal PC town.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Totally liberals

      Completely agree. This is totally opposite of what conservatives would suggest. This is not a suggestion of conservatives. I'm not sure the folks commenting actually read the article.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. Religion and its destructive force

    It is time that society as a whole ends the policy of "tolerance". When fairy tales are allowed to supercede facts and reality in our education system, our intellectual development will be stunted, and our place in the world will further lag other developed nations. It is time that atheists rise and speak up against the destructive force of religion and voice their contempt for theists and their policies.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Crad

      I agree whole heartedly with you. This idea of teaching fairy tales in school. For example.mi was taught evolution as a fact, i never heard anything about aliens seeding the earth, or god created man, or that we migrated from other worlds. Only evolution, as fact. When its only a theory, among many theories. Humans like you are so arrogant. We think we know everything about god and the universe and we dont even know whats in our own oceans..you arent as smart as you think you are

      March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • This is not the work of religion

      Religious folks did not suggest this. Religious Christian schools do not exclude dinosaurs, birthdays, and types of food from their education. They do not even exclude evolution. They feel it is best to understand opposing ideas and theories. They even teach about other religions. Investigate before you make statements.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Religion is not comparable to science

      Crad and This is not the work of religion:

      Religion is not comparable to science. It is not an alternative theory. It is a story with no scientific ground. To do what you suggested would be, as A.C. Grayling put it, presenting astrology as a plausible alternative to astrophysics, and ancient demon possession as an alternative "theory" to medicine.

      There is nothing arrogant about being firmly grounded in facts and reality, and using them as the basis to guide one's life. What is arrogant is to say that those who do not believe in God are bad and evil, and are destined for eternal damnation.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  19. GOP

    Learning is evil people, when are you going to learn that?! Wait......yeah!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  20. reality check

    Mythology is a wonderful subject and should be taught in schools. Some mythical beings can fly, others can call down thunder, some can even come back from death.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yes, Mythical things, like dinos and televisions!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:00 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.