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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. Edward

    Remeber the good old days when the most important thing for a text book or test was for you to learn? Now our "educators" worry more about "loaded words" then children actually learning. What is a "loaded word" anyway? Seems the only "loaded words" anyone should be concerned about is "Department of Education".

    March 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • GodPot

      There are many words that we as a Nation have decided are not healthy for our children and are not allowed to be used in school. The "N" word is a good example of how one region might not think anything is wrong by saying "The southern plantation owners often cared deeply for their "n*%&ers" and almost considered them part of the family." Where the rest of us might take offense. So leaving certain sensative words out of our schools testing is nothing new.

      Now leaving dinosaur out of the textbooks seems a bit like leaving the word "sphere" out of the description of the shape of our planet because there is a handful of morons in Texas that still believe the earth is flat.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • Nikki

      GodPot - I'm from Texas and we are very much aware that the world is round. What we are waiting on is the East Coast of the U.S. to discover the rest of the continent and that the sun does not revolve around the East Coast.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  2. Jeff Williams

    I, personally, am deeply offended by the word "THE".

    "THE" always seems to appear with bad, naughty, and offensive words.

    e.g., "The" breast. "The" atheist. "The" theory of evolution.

    Guilt by association, I say.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Observer

      Jeff, your frequent use of the word "I" shows that you are selfish and self-centered. It's probably disturbing to a lot of people.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  3. Nicole Chardenet

    Why the hell are we catering to religious cranks and crackpots? Since when did the inability to handle reality become enshrined as a "right" in the US?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  4. Yes NY City DOE you are the laughing stock of the entire world. Please die.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • eagander

      oops! Sorry, but "die" is on the list. Pls try "croak", "stop living", "decease", "kick off", or other possible option. 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  5. 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!!!

    GO F..U..C..K. YOURSELVES!
    YOU ARE A BUNCH OF C..U.N..TS!
    YOU S.U..C.K. THE D..I.C..K OF THE W.H.O...R.E..;S DAD!

    ARE THESE OFFENDED YOU? MAYBE YOU SHOULD GROW UP AND REALIZE WORDS THEMSELVES DO NOTHING!!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  6. LIsaM

    Wow, why not just raise all the kids in a little box with only a heavily censored computer and food and a place to sleep and use the bathroom. That way they will never be exposed to anything remotely disturbing.

    How absolutely stupid to take out any "upsetting" words. As if you could read their minds... you have no idea what upsets this or that individual.

    This is a multi-cultural country, but that means you hear about other cultures all the time. Get used to it.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  7. Dave, Central Illinois

    It continues to amaze me that the self-described "informed" people insult those of us who believe in Intelligent Design. Computer technology encompases my education and career. The similarities between the binary code, which is the root of all computer programs, and the fundamentals of DNA are amazing. If any of you blowhards who degrade others ever took the time to really study the mechanics of the human body, you might actually see where the other viewpoint comes from. But, it's just easier to repeat pop-culture idol's words and act as if you are smart. What a pathetic band of tools you are!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Wisdom teeth, the coccyx, appendix, tonsils, ni.pples on males (notice how gorillas, other primates and mammals have them, too?) Lousy "design". Yes, I know, I'm an engineer – a REAL engineer.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  8. str8vision

    The existence of dinosaurs offends people of faith? Scary, disturbing thought. Better buy stock in companies that build wooden crosses as it looks like some American's have regressed to hunting/burning Witches again. The observance of "Christmas" offends atheists? LOL...get over it, don't celebrate it, find something else to obsess over. But what fanatical group is offended by the word "Birthday"? Over the course of my sixty years observing American lifestyles and culture I have been greatly entertained. There is little doubt in my mind why America is in a state of spiraling decline.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • Ex-JW

      Christmas, Birthdays and halloween and not observed by Jehovahs Witnesses so that may be where some of this is coming from.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  9. GRS62

    "this is how we dumb down public schools." That sums it up perfectly. It's time to stop doing everything possible to avoid offending a particular religion, culture or emotional response. Kids need to learn all aspects of life, not be sheltered from it.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  10. mfx3

    I'm really starting to hate this country.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Mark

      No kidding.
      And people why wonder other countries hate the US so much.
      They aren't jealous.... there's a lot of idiots here.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  11. John

    Whats next, burning the books that these works are found in?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • hayden

      sounds like ray bradburys fahrenheit 451

      March 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  12. nichole

    And wasn't our country founded off of religion anyhow. Whether or not we believe in the Lord we all have a belief one way or another. If you don't believe i suppose that is your belief. So we all have opinions and they are just that, an opinion. Not anyone of us has the answers so why fight over it.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Mike

      because some opinions are more qualified than others. Some opinions are based on scientific evidence, and other opinions are based on the translation of a 2,000-year old ancient text written by desert people who claim to know everything we need to know about the creator of the universe.

      I fight about it, because there are people who become elected officials who then vote in a particular way, thinking that their faith-based opinion is just as valid as an opinion based off scientific evidence.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
  13. Susan Tetewsky

    This is Amazingly Politically Correct which is a polite way of saying it is incredily F***ing Dumb. Soon we will only be able to say and think only certain things. I don't believe our Founding Fathers envisioned this type of book burning (or word burning). Shameful!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  14. Nikki

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs...

    Dr. Ellie Sattler: Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • mfx3

      Woman lets earth fall apart due to lack of maintenance.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Don't remind me. I had to replace the engine because of one, and the transmission thanks to her predecessor.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  15. Mark

    If "dinosaurs" evoke unpleasant emotions, why is there like a million sequels of movie "The Land Before Time"?

    Bad parents evoke more unpleasant emotions than dinosaurs, if you want to use the NYC school system's logic, you should take out words that are related to your parents like "mom, dad, family, etc."

    If they are thinking kids will think evolution, when it comes to dinosaurs, they are idiots!
    I never thought that when I was a kid.
    Dinosaurs to mean are dead, giant lizards that lived a long time ago.

    Evolution is a theory as much as religious deities, some people think they are real, and some people think they are only theories. So don't start bringing religion into the public school system!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Mark

      I just noticed a typo.
      I meant to say:
      When I was a kid, dinosaurs to me are dead, giant lizards that lived a long time ago.
      Just like my ancestors.... dead people who lived a long time ago.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  16. Circus

    This is what happens when over educated professionals manage our school systems. I'm sure the word "holocaust" is not on the list – in fact, its use is encourged by these morons with an agenda.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Justified

      No, this is what happens when gov't is ruled by Christian fundamentalists

      March 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  17. Truman Angel

    We are becoming a nation of idiots

    March 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Nikki

      Becoming????

      March 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  18. dave

    All superintendants in the US should have their salaries cut by one third - if they don't like it, they can easily be replaced

    March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  19. markus

    And we continue to raise a bunch of wimps...

    March 29, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  20. RP

    What's an Onion story doing on CNN's web site?

    (Please tell me this is an Onion story.)

    March 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Beginning to think they are sharing writers.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
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