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. PushingBack

    Oh good lord!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. Kenny Kenseth

    Words can not express the stupidity of this...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  3. hippypoet

    just another 3000 year old story of explaination of the unexplainable of the time!

    Religion claims answers and to one up the answers already given, they make their answers so far fetched that one would require a god type to even imagine such feats!
    Then they add the "if you don't believe then my god will smite you" line.... Religion is all about control. If you believers don't see it then you are all blind and that is that. Lets take a look at what religion is for real...
    613 commandments, specials days of fasting, sabbath days, rituals to be observed,a hierarchy within the religion itself to make sure you know your place as a follower, and the very best part – its cements the control over low beings (a.k.a. you followers ) – thru the creation of a substance untouchable yet called real, so much so that one must keep it clean -the soul – and thru the manipulation of people thru this "soul" murderious hordes have marched from one corner of the globe to the other killing in the name of god! Atheism is about being free, its about waking up on sunday and not feeling wrong or like your doomed to hell if you don't go to church.....its about life not death which seems to be the focus of nearly every major religion out there today!

    i wish i could have been there when the first person trys to sell the whole "if your good now in the is life then in the after life you get rewards" crap! I wanna hear how they weaved sh!t into silk and sell mist to clouds!

    of all things we athiests and theists disagree on there is one we can not deny that we both agree on!.....you don't TRUELY know what happens after you die, nor do i .....but i accept it and move past it while others create fantasies about a second life yet lived! Why does a childrens fantasy hit home more then reality?

    it is because of religion that we now see our children being oppressed thru censoring words of weight – i say words of weight but in reality words are nothing, meaningless untill given meaning by US!!! until we gain in intelligence this type of social control shall be the norm and it all started with religion!

    It is equal to the censors on CNN.com – they stop you from using words that offend because THEY don't wanna deal with hurt feelings and a law suit over it -thats right, losers go to court over hurt feelings and "mean" words!!!

    YOU S.U..C.K. THE D..I.C..K OF THE W.H.O...R.E..;S DAD!


    March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • F U hippypoet LOSER





      March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • hippypoet

      scew you dude.... have you no thuoghts of your own to stand by or do you find them all in a 3000 year old fairytale?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • unbelievable

      "Religion is all about control. If you believers don't see it then you are all blind and that is that."

      Is that why they call it "blind faith?"

      I'm offended that the schools are willing to subject students to the concept of retreating in the face of fundamentalist opposition. What's next...we can't use the word virgin because it offends muslims who are hoping to blow themselves up in exchange for 72 of them? Maybe we shouldn't use the word beef because it offends vegetarians...Maybe we shouldn't use the term whale because it offends our morbidly obese population. Why doesn't the board of ed worry about more important issues, like providing students with a quality education...

      There once was a concept referred to the separation of church and state...that has slowly been eroded to the point where it no longer exists. There once was a concept of freedom of speech...but we now say that you can only use words that don't offend anyone...

      Moral of the lesson...you can only practice a religion until the government decides that it offends another religion. A fundamentalist of any sort can affect our core values and influence the way our society evolves...or doesn't evolve...(wait, I may have offended creationists with that word) By the way...aren't the radical muslims that bomb civilians and fly planes into buildings fundamentalists? But we call them terrorists?

      Walk in a straight line, don't speak until spoken too, do not even consider yourself an individual as opposed to part of a collective...and welcome to the new USSA...United Socialist State of America.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • Reason

      As a matter of fact atheists value and live life to the fullest because we know its the only one we get. We let reason dictate our actions, not blind faith in some bronze-age sky fairy. Heaven and hell are a myth, it's just to bad that when you die, you wont realize what an idiot you have been in believing in these things and restricting your life, because you will no longer exist.

      If god exists and he is so great, then why does he allow tens of thousands of adults and children die every day by hunger, war, natural disaster etc... Why does his "wrath" target people at random (because according to you, non-believers will die at the hands of god). Why is tornado alley located in the bible belt, wouldnt your sky fairy spare you from this disaster?

      Science and reason have provided more answers to the workings of this universe and have improved our standard of life more in the last 200 years than your religion has in the last 6000.

      BTW telling someone to go die in a hole is not very Christian...

      March 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  4. Science Teacher

    I am so glad I teach in an Episcopal private school, where I do not have to leave my brain at the door when I step into my classroom.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  5. alexis

    so Creationist are offended by the word Dinosaur..... then why do they let their kids watch Barney?? Kids cant spell as it is .. you have to be kidding me .. but ask a kid to spell a 4 letter word and they can do that with out any problems...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Steven

    uh, huh,..... hey, Beavis, uh, huh, huh,

    School doesn't prepare us for science and math. Apparently, it, uh, huh, huh, just does not prepare us .


    March 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  7. Brian

    I am offended by references to "weight" and "gravity" in science tests. Gravity is a theory which has never been proven! Scientists still can not explain why items appear to "fall"! The answer is that invisible angels are pushing things down so that they do not fly off the Earth. Only in Christianity can we find the answer, in the theory of Intelligent Falling.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  8. SW

    I sure hope this kind of stuff ends. What a waste of time trying to please everyone.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  9. Brooklyn Boy

    I'm a parent of three children attending a New York City public school and this is one of the most idiotic things I have ever heard of. All my kids like dinosaurs. Will they be sent home if they utter or write this forbidden term, for fear of offending someone who ojects to biology. Oh please... I'd never stop filing suits against the school system. I would make it my mission in life.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  10. Flabbergasted

    So... what about offending the Evolutionists and Science Community.... but I guess that's not as important as offending the Creationists and Religious Groups.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  11. Dave

    We certainly are not preparing our kids for the real world where all words are used and they need to handle them. School is supposed to prepare for life, not protect them from being upset at any time.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  12. hatruth

    Of course the next thing we'll hear is that people are offended that the test are printed on white paper, which will make the tests oral. Then people who are deaf and/or mute will complain that the test discriminates against them, yada, yada, yada...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • LaLa

      Is it too much to hope that trying to please (or not offend) everybody will lead to these tests being tossed out ?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  13. si

    This is beyond the realm of political correctness, this is Orwellian Doublespeak.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  14. palintwit

    Sarah Palin believes that early man walked with the dinosaurs. Sarah Palin believes that early man rode their dinosaurs to church every Sunday.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • cgene


      March 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  15. Bobby

    People needed to be offended more... that way maybe we might learn to deal with it, instead of every little 'loaded word' becoming a flash point for outrage and ludicrous actions like banning perfectly good words.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  16. Mason

    You got to be kidding me. IS THIS STORY REAL! We pay people our tax dollars to set around a table to think this stuff up. OMG-woops sorry thats band too.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  17. merckx

    I hope they left out the word "pathetic"

    March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  18. tevii

    This is ridiculous on so many levels. The argument being that it can potentially offend somebody? We need to stop "protecting" our children to this degree. Getting offended is a part of life. It is also a required part of early life in order to learn how to deal with it appropriately. If we hide it from our youth at an early age, they will not be accustomed to dealing with it at an older age.
    Not only that but this country is made up of many religions and ethnic backgrounds. "For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses" So what? We need to learn to live with each others differences not pretend they dont exist.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  19. dhhl

    I'd have a lot more faith in the future of humanity if it quit doing ridiculous things like this in the name of "faith."

    March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • philtration

      Call prayer what it really is.... wishing.
      Wishes DO NOT change anything.

      It is not the worlds fault that you did not grow out of your make believe friends.
      Practice crazy on your own time.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
    • merckx

      Yes with no god telling me to enslave people or blow them up or invade their countries or arm a militia or hate gays or deny women health care what healthy things can possibly happen?

      March 29, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Dillon

      Religion is not healthy for children and other living things. Reason changes everything.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:48 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.