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. Mitch

    And we wonder why American education today is a joke...

    March 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  2. Endearingswan

    It's a shame that the Prof. Wineberg, quoted in the second to last paragraph, does not know the etymology of the word "education." The latin means "to lead out", not "to go out", a subtle, but important difference.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  3. JT

    So we can't mention dinosaurs now. Why? Because of a few kooks who choose to believe in a creation myth, written by men who lived in a time when people couldn't even conceive of how to go about measuring the age of the planet. Someone tell me this is a joke.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  4. Satanluv

    Further demonstrates what NONSENSE religion is..I am sick of being held hostage by people who believe in childish tripe that can easily be shown to be false using any of the modern sciences....god is a silly and childish notion on par with superman and santa claus...their backstory of human existence is flat out wrong...go read it, the story isn't even consistent and far from posssible given what we now know....it was written by goatherds who didn't know why the sun came up in the morning or why the seasons changed...funny they knew absolutly nothing about how the world worked by they were somehow experts on these metaphysical matters...get a grip...grow up

    March 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • jackinlondon

      You're so wrong. Science cannot prove the non-existence of God. What a load of nonesense. Check your facts before posting, you make yourself look totally foolish and uneducated

      March 30, 2012 at 2:11 am |
  5. ooah12

    I want the number "6" removed as it's 1/3 of 666.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
  6. My2Cents

    As a teacher I can understand both arguments. Many people look at this list and say "state level educators are being too politically correct" and "how can any of these words offend people?" As an educator myself, I don't believe these are the true reasons for banning such words. Much is at stack with our current testing system. Schools need to meet AYP, which requires students to pass standardized tests. If those tests include a word like "dinosaur" and a portion of the student population believes that dinosaurs existed alongside humans 6,000 years ago, how could they possibly answer any question on the test correctly? And the word "birthday" may bring about a joyous feeling for most students, but the few who have never celebrated and have not personal connection to the word, will not have as meaningful a written piece as someone who has experienced several birthday parties. Plus, what if these words appeared not on a written expression assessment, but instead show up in a multiple choice question? Then many students will have to "guess" because they do not have required prerequisite knowledge. So, while I do agree that from a politically correct stand point this seems a bit overboard, but when teacher's jobs are on the line and every correct answer counts, then being sure that all students have a fair shot at answering correctly is of the utmost importance.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Brandon in FL

      Doesn't the fault for this lie with the very same people making the new rule? We should be teaching our kids critical thinking skills. When you have these you can perform well on any standardized test, and support yourself when you grow up. Yes, the Federal gov't requires the test, as do some states, but it is the local boards who seriously dropped the ball when they decided that teaching to the tests was better than teaching children how to use their minds. Unfortunately, this trend was nearly universal.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Mel

      We can't tailor education to everyone's beliefs otherwise it is no longer standardized and we might as well close the schools and home-school all children. I had to learn Black History stuff when I went to school. Not my culture and I had no frame of reference which was exactly why they taught it. Maybe some Jehovah's Witness kid doesn't celebrate birthdays now but does that mean he never will? What if he changes faiths? What if some bible-thumper who doesn't believe in dinosaurs now because that's what his parents taught growns up to be a paleontologist? I had to go to church when I was in school but I grew up and became a Buddhist. We become more educated BECAUSE of these differences, not the other way around. When you deny a child the chance to learn something then you might as well sign them up for welfare at birth.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Evan

      Your entire comment shows why so many people attack teachers...
      Students are tested on material they are supposed to learn. They do not have to believe in it. It is not the job of the state to protect or instill beliefs into children and young adults. If the student does not understand and learn the material then they will test poorly. It is literally that black and white. Their are not two sides. This is just BS bureaucracy; the NYC DOE has nothing better to do with their time apparently.

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

    I've got one for ya....how about we ban JEWS from America? Just kick out the whiny parasites....ship 'em off to Israel or wherever the hell they claim God gave 'em land. That would solve a lot of our problems - financial swindles, unnecessary wars, moral turpitude, the war on religion...hell, without those Shylock b-stards our country would regain its status as the 'light of the Western world'. If we can't ban 'em, I say we fire up the ovens and break out the Zyklon-B....I know, I know - the 'holocaust' was an enormous myth, but at least those hook-nosed goblins who invented framed Hitler gave us some good ideas for the future!!

    March 28, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • God

      I got an idea lets ban chrisians from America, Just kick out the whiny parasites....ship 'em off to the sun or wherever the hell they claim their invisible friend lives. That would solve a lot of our problems – financial swindles, unnecessary wars, moral turpitude, religion...hell, without those Inbred b-stards our country would regain its status as the 'light of the Western world'. If we can't ban 'em, I say we don't let them have s ex with their mothers anymore....I know, I know – the inbred christian' was an enormous myth, but at least those sister lovin goblins who love Hitler gave us nogood ideas for the future!!

      March 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  8. Mel

    In this day and age, any word can be offensive to someone. Should we avoid using words like blue or green because it might offend people who are color-blind? I thought schools were supposed to be free of religion (whole church and state separation thing)? I doubt any school kid is going to think of pagan origins when hearing the word Halloween. Guaranteed they will think of free candy. So if a Muslim doesn't eat pork then kids can't learn that word in school? My family is Buddhist and to us Christmas is the day we go out for Chinese food. Does that mean I don't want the word Christmas used in school? Nope. My kids are smart because I have exposed them to other cultures and religions, not shileded them from them. They can make better decisions if they are well-educated about a topic. My seven year old asked what a tornado was so we looked it up and read about what causes them, where they hit, the destruction. We live in Minnesota and tonadoes it here. Do I want Minnesota schools to ban the word because it might upset my son? No. What does it serve?

    March 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Brandon in FL

      Sounds about right to me.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  9. Mom of 6

    I think we should ban standardized tests. The schools just teach to the test anyway so it isn't a good indicator of what kids really know. The real test of a good education is whether or not they can support themselves when they get out of school. According to the number of people on welfare, my guess is that we are not doing a great job.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  10. CatSh

    Ok, we protect their delicate minds from all these harsh, uncomfortable words. Then send them off to schools with drugs, bullies, and pedophile teachers – yeah, I feel SO MUCH better now!

    March 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  11. achilles

    Stop supporing zionist aggression.


    March 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Tell that to to Jews.... they hate Christians

      March 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • CatSh

      In God We Trust, the Jews don't hate us. They just love all the money Chistians spend on their Jesus tourist traps. Then there's all the money and support the evangelicals give them because the just KNOW the Jews will convert to Chistianity when Jesus comes in the clouds for the Great Battle of Good vs Evil.. The Jews are laughing all the way to the bank. Christians are TONS of amusement. They just LOVE Christians. 😉

      March 28, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Kramer

      Forget Zionism....stop supporting Jews PERIOD. Jews were hated and hounded thousands of years before Zionism was created. It aint Zionism, genius - it's JEWS overall.

      There's no business like SHOAH-business!! LOL!!!!!

      March 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  12. ReligiousGuy

    No wonder companies now prefer to employ people educated from China & India.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Sad, but true. We have no one but ourselves to blame for this nonsense.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • Buenaventura Durruti

      I thought it was because they cost a dollar a day.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • CatSh

      They cost less, but it takes more of them longer. No real cost savings. But the truth is that they are easier to hire, don't demand much, and you can fire them without fear of a lawsuit. You don't have to worry about 401Ks or health insurance or any other type of benefit, they don't expect it. They are usually very well educated in math and science – but totally oblivious to SOX rules, security, or American business practices.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  13. Brandon in FL

    Wasn't the "Your Special" effect apparent enough in gen Y? Part of growing up is learning how to deal with the realities of the real world. Completely sheltering them from any situation that might force them to learn how to deal with unpleasantness has to be unwise.

    Any of you work with someone 24 or younger, right now? I manage a few, and quite frankly, I get tired of having to constantly congratulate them for DOING THEIR JOBS. The alternative isn't much better. If I don't continuously remind them of how great they are, the fall into sullen fits and become useless. I'm all for positive reinforcement, but when I say "constantly, " I'm only exaggerating a little. It's scary. Now, not only are we telling them they're special, we're also teaching them that they don't ever have to be uncomfortable?

    Nope, can't be good, can't be good at all.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Gadflie

      I have about 30 people in that age group under me right now. I have no such issue. I strongly suspect you need to work on your management techniques.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Or the "Why do I have to work late?" att.itude? The "Why can't I check my Facebook status in meetings?" att.itude?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Gadflie

      Well, honestly, if they have managers who whine as much as you two seem to be doing, is it really hard to understand the source of the issue?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Brandon in FL

      I'm a chef, the management part is a side-effect. Kitchens are high-stress, fast-paced, sometimes harsh environments, that leave anyone wanting for reinforcement. Myself included.

      Anyway, the multi-billion dollar company that I work for thought it was an important enough issue that they sent all their managers to classes on generational differences.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Gadflie

      I'm a business owner. Several businesses in fact. And, if you treat the generations differently, you should expect different results from them. So, I don't. I have four basic rules of management that I follow and insist on all my managers following.
      Hire good people.
      Train them well.
      Allow them to do their job.
      Require they do their job.
      Anything else ins unacceptable and EVERYONE in the company knows it. There are rules to be followed. I expect them to follow them. It's part of their job. If they can't do it, someone else can.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • CatSh

      And if they get the job done and do it well, who cares if they want to check Facebook during a meeting? It was probably a boring meeting anyway. I'm a boomer and a business professional. These kids are reshaping how business is done in America.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  14. Brian

    Wow!!? why not just ban any word that means anything to any religion, race, creed, color? Let's just earmuff all students in hopes that no one is offended and no student can form an opinion of their own. NY makes a lot of assumptions that all those words are so offensive they need to be banned. Seems like a pretty slippery slope...

    March 28, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  15. Amy

    I'm ago sick of all of the tip-toeing around in the interest of being politically correct. Dinosaurs? Are you kidding me? By the time we ban books, words on tests and whatever else comes next, our kids will be so numb to the real world that they won't know what hit them when they finally get out there on their own. What a waste of time and taxpayer money. Pathetic.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • AGuest9

      No WONDER why "Land of the Lost" was cancelled!

      March 28, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  16. Gadflie

    The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure that almost everyone here would agree that certain words shouldn't be used on these tests. But, all the whining here is, in reality, about which words. Waaah.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • SGW

      Why on earth should certain words not be used on a test? They are just words, they can't hurt you. Our children should be exposed to all of them. How much deeper will we bury our heads in the sand before we realize our education system is a disgrace? And it's due to nonsense like this.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • AGuest9

      SGW, because they might cause "uncomfortable questions" at home.

      However, why the 14 year old sister is pregnant, or why the aunt was passed out on the couch from a little overdose doesn't raise "uncomfortable questions"?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
  17. ELH

    Well, I hope they also banish "intelligent" and "common sense" as well since these double-barreled incompetent excuses for educators show neither of these attributes.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  18. Hawkeye321

    Another win for political correctness... and another win for China, India, Norway, and the countless other nations whose education system is crushing the U.S.

    March 28, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  19. † In God We Trust †

    SANTORUM or ROMNEY 2012..... can't wait for strictly religious president taking over this country, specially Santorum.
    Obama is too secular and probably closet non-Christian

    March 28, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      You left our little conversation "In God". Could you not defend your position anymore?

      March 28, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • CatSh

      You will quickly find that A. Not all Christians believe as you do, and B. Not all people who say they are Chistian, are.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      HawaiiGuest what are you talking about? I always respond back.

      USA = CHRISTIAN COUNTRY. Period . . .

      March 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      "Whatever. America is a Christian nation and you should read the consti.tution of Independence including all letters etc. and you will clearly find that we are a Christian nation but with freedom of religion. Period."

      How is this a response? BTW it is the Declaration of Independence. Just saying something is means nothing. I brought up points and you come back with "whatever".

      March 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Now stop fooling yourself around. Tell me America is a secular nation when Christmas and Easter are not holidays, In God We Trust is removed etc. etc.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      In god we trust should be removed. It wasn't even on our bills before 57. And if easter and christmas are exclusively christian holidays, does that mean that christians are the only ones that can celebrate it? Also, all the traditions of those holidays come from non christian celebrations, and were only assimilated into doctrine as a means to ease forced conversion and avoid civil war.

      March 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • whaa?

      @InGod...What does that have to do with the NYC School System and this particular instance of foolishness. You are a scary individual with little common sense.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Our national motto will never be removed. Good Luck with that! Perhaps it appeared in some coins in the late 1800s.

      Christmas & Easter are Christian holidays. However everybody is welcome to celebrate them, and welcome to convert to Christianity.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      whaa.... It has because religious symbols are banned in NYC public school system!!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Christmas and Easter are holidays that were bas.tardized by the Roman Catholic Church from multiple pagan traditions in order to bring in more converts, and avoid rebellion from those they were forcing to convert.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Also, the school is prohibited from putting up religious symbols. Students are free to have all the symbols they want on their books, bags, and jewelery.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
    • WASP

      @in crack you trust: so that means we are a jewish state seeing hanukkah is also observed in america. let's not forget we are also a pagan state seeing all hollows eve is also observed. we are a secular nation that will not ever bend to religious rule ever again. my ancestors fought to be free of christian rule and if need be i will fight to keep america free again.

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

      You are a most worthy soldier in Gods army. Please take your message where it is needed most... I hear that Pakistan and Iran are lovely this time year. Go forth and spread the word, bring salvation and light where it is needed most. Fear not, God is on your side! …Yemen, Somalia… make haste, there is much to do and little time for commenting on CNN.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  20. Edirol

    It's well past the time the U.S. ought to . . . bury POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.

    The baby boomer R & B band "WAR" said it best in their 1974 song "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

    March 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • Dave

      Is that the official Roland position or just some dude from B.C. Canada?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:54 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.