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. hippypoet

    IT IS ALL 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 1:10 pm |
  2. Jim Hampton

    Surprisingly, I agree with the NYC DOE. While I agree with Wineburg's assessment of the purpose of education, he misses the point. The point is not education, it's testing. Testing time is stressful for kids, not just because tests are difficult but also because a great deal of their future education rides on their performance. Their focus needs to be on the test material only. Tests are not a time for education. I know that if I was trying to write a test that was peppered with biblical and religious references, I'd be very irritated, and therefore very distracted, which is not the mindset one needs to produce ones best test score.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  3. palintwit

    Conservative christians are still mourning the death of Peggy Rea, the actress who played Boss Hogg's wife.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  4. CA Liberal

    I agree with Sam Wineburg. Excluding words and certain ideas from tests is certainly "Dumbing down education."

    March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  5. al

    liberals? what? liberals would want the students to learn about everything, wouldn't they? not sure if you can break this into political ideologies.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  6. eagander

    Stupid! s-t-u-p-i-d. Oh, sorry, did I offend or cause any unpleasant feelings for anyone? Is it on the list??

    March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Not yet, but it will be soon.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Stupid is,as stupid does – Forrest Gump

      March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  7. nyc lawyer

    i want to reply but im not sure what words im allowed to say that this is absolutely astonishingly crazy. lets cater to the view of some zealots who think dinosaurs are a MYTH? thats really odd seeing how there are millions of artifacts catalogued and recoverd in all the great museums of the united states, smithsonian, museum of history, etc. i cant believe i had to take time out of my work day to state how nonsensical it is. dinosaurs are not a myth. fact proven by undisputable evidence.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Dinosaurs exist. I saw them in the Museum of Natural History in NYC. I have pics to prove it. They also inhapbit the halls of Congress.. one is called Hareee Reeed. It is s small brained herbivore, with limited intellect, and commonly terrorizes less significant species with articulations in a screechy voice. It is wll known for referring to the Barack Obama lizard as a light skinned negor without a street accent. It is sleighted for exitnction at the end of the quadracy term in 2012.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • Robert

      EXACTLY!!!!! AMEN! Ooops! Sorry forbidden religious reference

      March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  8. tom

    And I am left asking myself "What country do I live in?".

    March 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • watchtheborders


      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  9. DeeDee

    Yes, this must be a joke. No wonder schools are turning out graduates who cannot read or write at a third-grade level. Let's take more words out of their daily life and expose them to only certain things. That way, if they are ignorant, they willl be easier to control because they will not know the difference. Way to go NYS Board of Education.!! You win the idiot award again.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  10. Greg L

    Then they best ban the word “Bureaucrat” since that is bound to evoke unpleasant emotions.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  11. Nikki

    mfx3 - Wrong!!! I waited a very long time to have a house of my own. Both the house and car receive regular maintenance. Long since learned that maintenance is usually cheaper and more predictable than letting something breakdown completely.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • AP001

      ...and what the heck is wrong with using the word Christmas? I dont see Hanaka or Ramadun banned from the list?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  12. Robert

    What the hell is wrong with the country!? All the crap we get and our dull future is our OWN fault. Stop with this stupidity. There is nothing wrong with the words dinosaur, hurricane or divorce. Why not ban vegetables, cavities and airplanes. If people cant cope with the word dinosaur without being traumatized then that is their issue and not society's!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  13. William Hedlund

    What's a dinosaur?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • DeeDee

      Good one!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      A left wing socialist democrat with delusions of grandeur.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  14. mafness

    Growing up I was offended by geometry. I think that should be outlawed...

    Whats wrong with this country. When did we become so soft? This is just an evolved form of discrimination/racism. What happened to tolerance? What happened to accepting others beliefs whether you agree with them or not?

    What if I don't believe in god, are we to ban the Pledge of Allegiance because it says "One Nation under God" should we correct it to say "One nation under someone" ?

    So there are people who don't believe in evolution. Whether you believe in it or not you can not deny there were giant creatures known as dinosaurs. where ever they came from they were here, deal with it.

    Liberal, Religious, indifferent ... This country is going way to far with this politically correct nonsense.... We are breeding a country of soft, overly sensitive kids, who will EVOLVE into soft, overly controlling, exclusionist, discriminating, whinny , intolerant adults.

    If you're FAT you're FAT, if you don't like it, do something about it...
    If you believe in god, great, more power to you, but don't stop my future kids from learning about dinosaurs, ya know those creatures that we have proven existed

    We are breeding ignorance, and arrogance here people, lets keep our eyes on the ball here... Lets educate our children on other cultures, other races, other beliefs. Otherwise we are heading for Nazi Germany all over again...

    I've got news for all of you... Black, White, Religious, Atheist, Conservative, Liberal... None of us have the answers, we have our best educated guesses (some more than others) so lets arm our kids with as much information as we can, so they can make the best educated decision for themselves...

    STOP BEING SO SOFT AMERICA ! Life is hard, the last thing we need is over sensitive whinny adults... check that, WE DONT NEED MORE OF THEM !!!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      When? When liberals insitied that kids all get medals when they fail. That's when.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Carrie

      Thank you. You made your point with eloquence. I agree with your statements. Every day many people prove they have no understanding of history; that our founding fathers were "men of faith" but did not create the US as a christian country – which is why they insisted on "separation of church and state" in the Declaration of Independence.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • missbeth83

      Thank you for this! This was exactly what I was thinking.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  15. Rich

    Dinosaur are a fact.. not a myth.. it it upsets people then they need to get their heads checked.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      above or below the "waste" (metaphorically speaking).

      March 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • m

      Are you arguing with your other self? Who said they are not real?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      There bones are real. Is the popular "theory" that they were grey skinned lizard like animals "real"? Actually they have revised that and now estiamte they were extremely colorful, and devolved into modern day birds. T-Rex is most similar genetically to a Rooster. etc. Again, satire wins hands down over the lack of frontal and periotal lobed humans.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  16. Seriously?

    I must say, tax dollars well spent!! I'm glad to see that teachers lost their jobs, class sizes are being increased and that our educational system is no where near up to par on a global comparison. As long as money and resources went towards such a worth-while endeavor as to create a list of common every-day words we shouldn't expose children to. I can only hope this is some sort of early April Fools joke....oh wait, is "April Fools" on the list of banned terms??? My appologies!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  17. BoyHowdie

    We made it out of the middle ages only to return again.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      I passed the middle ages many years go.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  18. palintwit

    Conservative christians believe that the baby jesus planted all those millions of years old fossils in the ground just to mess with everyone's head.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • sam

      Indeed! Also, the earth was created already old.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  19. BlogHaha


    March 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  20. Jr.

    this can't be real..... this is fairy land make believe, right? please tell me I'm going to wake up.

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

      The vast majority of the US still thinks the Bible is true. We're still living in the dark ages. 🙁

      March 29, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Nikki

      Unfortunately, no. Too much religious influence. Dinosaurs, etc. are NOT a theory. Even the Bible can be interpreted as mentioning them: And there were giants in those days . . .
      The catholics tried this mind control during the Dark Ages (appropriately named, huh?) and look how long it took to recover from letting religion do your thinking for you.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
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About this blog

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.