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. Paul Neil

    The word "dinosaurs" would only upset stupid people.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  2. The Jackdaw

    I can't wait to have kids. School is going to be so easy by the time they go. Once they know 20% of their ABC's they should graduate.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Unfortunately, while they will graduate with straight 'As', they will know nothing of the real world... But their feeling will not have been hurt one little bit!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Good. Then it will be my job to hurt their feelings.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  3. Semper fi

    ARE you kidding me? My son just learned how to spell DINOSAUR. Most every kid loves Dinosaurs. I am Christian and believe in the science of evolution. Yes you can. Because I have a BRAIN that works. That GOD gave me to use. Someone with some form of authority and gets a paycheck thought this was a good idea and made this a proposal. What an IDIOT!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  4. voice of reason

    While The theory of evolution is technically a theory (as is the theory of gravity) there is only one theory of evolution. There are, however, many creationist "theories". So which one is to be used? The Indian one? The aboriginal one? The native american one? Evolution is not based on any religious belief. Intelligent design is based on a religious belief, and any Christian who doesn't believe that is lying to himself and his religion. Anyway, DNA has long proved Darwin to be correct. You can't say DNA can be used to convict or set someone free, but not disregard that same DNA proving evolution.

    Then again, reading the article above, it's easy to see why our nation is falling behind behind the rest of the world in our science classrooms.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  5. Paul

    Amazing. Just amazing. I'm a liberal Christian. I think issues such as religion, Athiesm, evolution, etc., should be discussed in school. I'm 53, and remember the movie "reefer madness". It was the ultimate stoner cult classic. When kids are lied to about one thing, they start to wonder what else they've been lied to about. Anyone that believes the planet earth started 6,000 years ago, given the scientific evidence that is all around us, is in complete denial. I believe in God, and evolution. They both happened. Can't we all get along?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  6. Gypsy

    This is complete bullcorn! We really need to stop dumbing down our children. Coddling them and presenting a reassuring fantasy world is not going to prepare them for reality. Our kids are much smarter and stronger than this. We don't give them enough credit.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • paul

      Why not resort to sign language..as that may help the future of kid who cant study any more

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  7. HotAirAce

    The List:

    • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
    • Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
    • Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
    • Bodily functions
    • Cancer (and other diseases)
    • Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
    • Celebrities
    • Children dealing with serious issues
    • Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
    • Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
    • Crime
    • Death and disease
    • Divorce
    • Evolution
    • Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
    • Gambling involving money
    • Halloween
    • Homelessness
    • Homes with swimming pools
    • Hunting
    • Junk food
    • In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
    • Loss of employment
    • Nuclear weapons
    • Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
    • Parapsychology
    • Politics
    • Pornography
    • Poverty
    • Rap Music
    • Religion
    • Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
    • Rock-and-Roll music
    • Running away
    • Sex
    • Slavery
    • Terrorism
    • Television and video games (excessive use)
    • Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
    • Vermin (rats and roaches)
    • Violence
    • War and bloodshed
    • Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
    • Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  8. caw

    I really want to comment but I'm too ill just thinking about this.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • Paul

      I'm actually a little surprised, and pleased, that this is from New York. I live in Tennessee – you know, home of the "roadkill law". Honest – there is one, describing how to properly license roadkill to take home for consumption. I have to say – the roadkill law makes more sense to me than what they're coming up with in New York!

      March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  9. Evan

    This is what the bureaucrats at the NYC DOE are paid to do? This is seriously someone's job: to make arbitrary lists of not-so-loaded "loaded" words. Somehow this is worth a salary and a pension?
    If we make to the 22nd century it will be a miracle.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  10. Bigcoat

    We should ban officials from banning things! We are becoming more communist then the communist countries!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  11. What Next!?!

    Yet another example of how some willfully ignorant religious types try to inflict their beliefs on the next generation. Hear that sucking sound? That's the future of the US going down the toilet as these zealots get their way and usher in the new theocracy that will forbid the creativity and freedom of the American Spirit.

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

      Hence .. child abuse.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
  12. SilentBoy741

    Why not send the list to the students, before sending it off to the publishers? See what actually offends or "bores" the people (and yes, students should actually be considered people, too) who will actually be taking the tests. And put in an area to add suggested words that the "experts" may not have thought of. Compile the results and send THAT list of 50 to the publishers.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Aaron

    If we are removing dinosaurs from a standardized list of potential words and phrases that may cause criticism, how exactly do we explain fossils?... not to mention Jurassic Park 1, 2, and 3!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
  14. Kurt

    How about teaching tolerance and awareness instead of avoidance and ignorance?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  15. The Jackdaw


    March 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  16. T-bone!

    Controver.. what the hell? It was controversial back in the 19th century you idiots! Damn Yankees, always bringing the rest of humanity back to your level of ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Its not usually the Yankees. This just proves that stupid is catching and spreads like cancer.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • SilentBoy741

      Yeah, but how about them Mets?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  17. The Jackdaw

    I would write a huge diatribe about how dumb this is, but I am afraid to use words that would offend people. Waid, did I already do so?....

    March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. thinkingdownstream

    NYC bypasses the mere banning of books, to the banning of non-PC words. How brutally efficient.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  19. Solus5

    I'm a Christian and this is crazy... This just depicts how far we have sunk.. I have no problem with dinosaurs. As a matter of fact, scripture talks of 2 of them.. I do take issue with the time frames some scientist put them in due to the fact that carbon dating is only accurate up to about 4000 years.. But I have no issue with dinosaurs..

    The fact is... they were here.. I don't take issue or am offended by using words like dinosaur or divorce or even evolution for that matter.. I believe micro-evolution does take place. Variations within a species with no new introduction of information to cause macro-evolution ie.. a dog transforming in to a cat.. The bible says they reproduced after thier own kind.. Anyway.. that is for another discussion..

    Sometimes you just have to laugh.. I think both Christian and non-christian can have a common laughing point in this article...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Andy

      I think you need to do a little research on radiocarbon dating for several reasons. The first is that carbon dating is accurate far beyond 4000 years. The second is that you cannot use carbon dating on fossils over 65 million years old, or anywhere near something that old. The half-life of carbon-14 (the isotope used in carbon dating) is too short. Uranium-238, uranium-235 and potassium-40 are isotopes that can be used to determine the age of such fossils.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  20. Confused

    Why are we teaching our children to AVOID these issues when we should be teaching them to ACKNOWLEDGE and EMBRACE them? Let people be who they are and teach our children that that is okay! Teachers should be explaining these different theories and religions in classes, letting children ask questions and gain a true understanding of the different views that people have. Let's give our children the education to make them well-rounded individuals; not stifle their learning by sheltering them! It seems as though they are being coralled into believing certain things by eliminatig exposure to the real world. What a shock these children will have when they go off to college or join the workforce.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Solus5

      I agree to a point.. I agree not to avoid these issues and to even acknowledge them.. I would choose however not to embrace them as i would take that word to mean internalize them and make them apart of who they are as a person..

      I would also take issue with Public school teachers explaining the different religions. Being a Doc.of Theology, I don't think teachers are trained to take on those issues. Those are issues best left up to the parents.

      We have a educational gap in the basics. Kids are graduating from high school and can't write their name or do simple algebra. What makes one think that a public education teacher who recieved a college education to teach these general reading writing and math skills can tackle the vast technicalities of even the most common faiths when the kids can't even grasp the general skills? In other words, the schools are failing at the basics, lets put more responsibility on them and let them teach and promote government approved ethics.. WOW.. did I just say those 2 words in the same sentence... ethics and government.. Uhmmm... Not my kids..

      Public schools (K-12) should be for gaining a working grasp of reading, gramatically correct writing, and a mastery of general mathmatics principles and problem solving. They learn how to interact with others, learn the scientific method, some history and science. I DO NOT want the public schools involved in ANYTHING other than that. Anything to do with teaching the pros and cons of certain religions, ethical situation, etc. I will handle that. The government can keep their tenticles out of my childs personal beliefs and principles.. That's my job as a parent..

      March 29, 2012 at 12:25 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.