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. watchtheborders

    If a dinosaur is in the woods walking, and there is no liberal present does it still have a name?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • palintwit

      Get back in your trailer. Nascar's on.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Southern Guy

      Sorry bud, you can't blame this one on Obama. Unless, of course, you think he makes State Law? Might be stretching it just a bit much, there...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Obamacare trumps state law if it passes scrutiny in the court. That is why it will fail. They tried to justify it under the Commerce Clause, which is interstate commerce. Oh, and I'm in New York, own a million dollar home, earn a six figure salary and have an MBA with 36 years of experience in my field.

      I guess you don't udnerstand satire especially when couched in comedic philosphical terms. I was parphrasing Carlin, the foremost philospher scholar comedian of our times, exceptin perhaps Kinnison.


      March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  2. StillAmazed

    I can understand trying to respect the variety of cultures that we have within our country. That, to me, is fine. This is just getting out of hand. Not with just this scenerio presented in this article but in general. If you really think about it, these words being removed from standardized tests is just a drop in a bucket to the overall issue at hand. So, we're just not going to teach our children about the differences in our country and our world? What's going to happen when they leave home and are dumped into the culture shock that is reality? This type of cushioning and sheltering of our children is what starts a breeding ground for intolerance on all levels. How can you expect to bring up a school system by ignoring the differences, ignoring the major issues, ignoring the scars that mar our historical and present-day world and expect them to grow properly and think for their own once harsh reality smacks them in the face? I've ranted on enough here, but it just severely saddens me to see the route we're setting for those who, one day, will be replacing us.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Sheila

    NO TAX DOLLARS OF MINE are going to support a compulsory educational system that has its origins in Germany. Look it up.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      How do you interrupt revenue from tax collection? Perhaps you will put on a hoody and ride up on your horse, guns a blazin' ' and grab the sack of gold from the coach?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  4. Southern Guy

    This is just weird, coming from New York! I live in Tennessee, where you can't buy liquor or wine at the grocery store, and they can't sell beer in the same store as they sell liquor or wine. I live in a dry county, where they don't allow liquor stores. You can go to a bar in this same county, drink yourself silly, then drive home, though. Makes perfect sense to me! (That's why we have no alcololism in Tennessee – because of excellent laws like this!) Until this article, I was unaware that some of our lawmakers have apparently relocated to New York!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Southern Guy

      Oooh. Very important. I slmost forgot – You can't buy shot glasses or wine openers in the liquor store either – those, you buy in the store that sells beer...

      March 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  5. Paul

    In NY the use of any verbs and noun-verb agreement seems to be "disturbing" or "biased".

    March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  6. Marty

    New yorkers are idiots.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  7. Peikovianyi

    At his trial by the Inquisition, Galileo confessed he was wrong, and that the Earth does not move around the Sun, which is what these mystics wanted to hear. Supposedly he muttered afterwards, ""Eppur si muove" (And yet it moves). Creationists may not like it, but there are rooms in museums filled with dinosaurs, and Carbon-14 tests date these animals as incredibly older than Creationists would like dinosaurs to be. If NYC would like to join the Creationists in Dark Ages 2, screw them all.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Scott

      Couple of notes: 1) Not all Creationist believe in a New Earth, I would venture that not even the majority believe that. The Bible does not really provide that exacting data, nor is it terribly important. 2) Many Creationist do not deny at least many of the mechanism referenced in evolution. It becomes less a question of How? but rather Who? Evolutionst say random chance, Creationist say God. Because application of the scientific method is not completely possible, ie go to the specific conditions and conclusively observe it comes down to what ever your "belief system" tells you. Using belief system to apply to any range of belief. So its up to each person to decide. 3) Carbon 14 dating is roughly only accurate up to 50,000 years, so if you believe in an old earth, its probably not the best application for dinosaur fossils. It is also flawed in that it assumes a certain atmospheric condidion of carbon to begin with, however science says that atmospheric conditions have shifted over the millenia. Even older dating radioactive techniques are prone to impactful variations based on condition changes. 4) So it doesn't seem I am not being a man about it and revealing my actual beliefs. I am a Christian, I do not happen to hold the new earth view, though scientifically it does have some interesting arguements. I am always amazed at how many new discovers we are constantly making about earth history and the universe so I realize all sides have a long way to go in understanding. I honestly do not know the mechanism that brought about the universe and all the variation on the earth, my faith tells me that God was the author/designer of the mechanism however your's may tell you something differently. What faith does tell me if I believe what I do, then telling you that God cares far more about you than about your view of earth history is paramount. What would make me a true hypocrite is to say I believe that, and then be so cruel as to not share it.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  8. pepperoni-dinosaur-pizza

    Interestingly, back in highschool, we had to learn classical languages (Latin, Greek) and their mythology for six years. This was in a catholic school, btw.....

    But would teaching such things upset the religious people in the US too? Having to learn about other gods like Jupiter, Zeus, Hera, etc.

    I pity the US....

    March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  9. SnapinTurtle

    I despise clowns and dentists, thank heaven those professions were never alluded to on a standardized test. I would have gotten emotional and never made it through school.

    The article did make a good point about dinosaurs not being equal to evolution. I was raised in a fundamentalist home and taught evolution was absolutely wrong and it was a sin against the creator to believe in it. However, I loved dinosaurs and no one at home or church discouraged that. I agree with the article most religious wingnuts do not consider the two under the same umbrella.

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

    I'm starting to hope the 2012 is our last year. This is getting ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  11. matt

    "say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory."

    Umm, I'm pretty sure that exactly ZERO serious professional paleontologists or geologists believe this nonsense.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  12. MP

    Be proud NY, this is what your tax dollars have bought. An education system that wishes to avoid education. Well done, now that you've compiled your Nazi list of censored words may I suggest two words students must learn ..."Melting Pot"

    Stupid is as stupid does...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  13. Andi

    We had all these apolitically correct ideas floating around when I was raising my three sons. They grew up to be terrific husbands and fathers. All you have to do is teach them right from wrong-don't leave it up to the schools. Teach them the good from the bad. I think all this hullabaloo nowadays is just ridiculous!!! Where are the parents? by the way-I raised my boys without their father (he passed away when the kids were little). Parents have no excuses. The banning of these words is just plain unnecessary.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  14. Jeff

    Here we go again, trying to force your Religon down my throat. Religion belongs in a Church, NOT in Public Schools. If you want to do this kind of BS then I don't want my Ta Dollars supporting it. Period.

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

      Just as a question, who's religion exactly are you feeling is being forced? I did not see any religous organization even mentioned that is championing this, I may have missed it if so I apologize. This it seems is coming from the public board of Education, which if I am am not incorrect rarely sees eye to eye with most faith based views. I am a Christian and feel the whole banned list, unless something universally profane, is stupid. I think that true faith is not so easily offended.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  15. Tony

    The city should FIRE the whole pack. Do you mean that the taxpayers in NYC have to support these clowns. This is a new low in "Politically correct".

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  16. pepperoni-dinosaur-pizza

    Amazing.... Am left speechless.

    What will the next 'sensitive' words be? "Jew"? "Muslim"? Or spaghetti (that one might tick of both the Italians and the Pastafarians!)

    Religions.... still succesful in keeping people dumb!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  17. Semper fi

    China has been around longer than 6000 years.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      Yeah, maybe it's been around 6,001½ years more or less.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Impossible.. the world has only been here for 6,000 years. Just ask the devout Christians.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  18. PhilZZZ

    Has anyone read the George Orwell book, "1984". One of the ways the rulers controlled the thoughts of the masses through control of the language. Everyone was forced to use "newspeak", a simplified language where many words were eliminated from use, and other words combined (e.g. newspeak) to form a preferred vocabulary. It's difficult to speak about certain ideas (that you oughtn't to be thinking about) if you have no words to express those ideas. Sounds like that may be coming to a Department of Education near you soon! Wow!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      I tried to read that book, but the lights from the cameras were too bright. I came back during the day, when the lights were off, but they had burned it. I don't know why they referred me to Faherenheit 451 instead. Maybe they had a hidden agenda?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  19. David M

    It's New York. What do you expect??

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      New? perhaps?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      In case you didn't know (and it looks like you didn't), NY is the bloodline, the vital vessel for the whole US of A. Cut this vessel and the rest of the country goes down the drain. Besides, why is it that I cannot walk without literally bumping, pushing and shoving into a tourist here in Manhattan?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • BoldGeorge

      And don't get me wrong, I love them tourists. Before, I use to want to be a tour guide in my beloved city but that type of job is very sought after.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  20. SoundGuy

    What's more stupid: banning the word "dinosaur" in american classrooms, or banning the word "fairy" in pakistani text messages? Hmm. Pakistan 1, USA 0.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Banning the adjective "intelligent" when used in conjunction with "Liberal".

      March 29, 2012 at 12:26 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.