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. prestonlawrence

    Weird! I am a Jehovah's Witness and don't celebrate my birthday but since I know that billions of people do, the word "birthday" does freak me out. Jews know "bacon" exists. Muslims know about "bikinis". Atheists have heard that some people think their is a "God"! I thought education was to teach you what you don't already know, understand and believe. I would be offended if someone wouldn't use the word "birthday" in my presence. It makes you to be the object of pity and that you need to be protected from damaging your fragile, barely viable beliefs. Free speech should be in education too.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
    • prestonlawrence

      my typo- should be"doesn't freak me out"! Made me laugh reading my own post...

      March 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  2. JusDav

    II believe "politician" needs to be removed as well.Dont know about you, but It always brings a negative emotional response from me..


    March 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  3. rad666

    What happened to seperation of church and state?? If you are a publically funded school why do you have to worry about someones religious beliefs?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
  4. Kool Aid

    What!?!?!?! You're kidding me, right? So we have to be sensitive to the feelings of complete buffoons? Really?!?!? This is most disturbing and symptomatic of what is wrong with the Left in this country (of which I consider myself aligned). This is ridiculous. If you believe the world is only 6k years old and that dinosaurs are part of some grand anti-christian conspiracy, that makes you an ultra-maroon–and going this far to protect the feelings of such a person is so far beyond the pale of political correctness to be laughable, if not nauseating!

    #FAIL, NYC, #FAIL!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  5. what?

    you've got to be kidding me

    March 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
  6. mike w

    Everybody knows Jesus rode a velociraptor. It's in the Bible.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • JusDav

      mike w

      good one dude. had to laugh when I read your post.

      But PLEASE!!!! Yeshua did not ride a velociraptor (sp). He was king of men (so they tell me) he had to have ridden a Tyrannosaurus Rex. AT LEAST .


      March 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Ron

    This is how we dumb down schools....I agree.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
  8. PD

    You cannot fix Stupid.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  9. rednecks suck

    I thought April fool's day wasn't until next week. This is a joke, right?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  10. Alfred

    This is outrageous, Dinosaurs existing is completely factual. Not like the false gods existing!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  11. Donald P

    Now you know why our schools are failing and our children are growing up to be idiots. People who propose this stupidity should be locked up where they can no longer destroy our children and their future.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  12. XxMasnaxX

    C'mon! Everyone KNOWS that 'Insert D-word here' existed 6,000 years ago! Why refute?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  13. Ethan

    I thought religion and government were separate??

    March 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Imofanopinion

      Government and religion IS supposed to be separate and I for one would like to keep it that way. Religion has ruined many a country when it takes over the government. Our country is vastly different then many other religious countries in that there are so many accepted faiths. I am very against situations like this where the lawmakers fear that words will offend their religious controlled citizens. Not everyone believes in the Bible either or how it proclaims how the world and man began. People are told not to believe in the possibility of "alien" cultures from another part of the universe...yet we are told to believe that women was made from the rib of a man and many other handed down events?? Religious zealots are totally dangerous and I could care less what their faiths are - remember the crusades...inquisitions...genocide all in the name of religion. The government needs to be seperate and while lawmakers are more then welcome in my book to practize their faiths at home...that is where I hope they keep it and not at work.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  14. cocopuf

    This article is KNOWN as the BIG lie. If you care to dig through ancient written records, you will know that that this article is a big lie.

    I am amazed at the ignorance of the many. LOL

    Let me give a hint. You don't have to be a creationist or church goer or what have you, to find out FOR YOURSELF instead of believing in what men want you to read in modern books, and believe ... for other agendas. Get over this brainwashing over and over, on TV, magazines, and books written by Ph.D.'s and H2SO4's behind their names.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • A

      Who puts sulfuric acid behind their name? Really?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Ron

      I think he's just high.

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

    Looks like the government and religion are starting to merge

    March 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • morotstomten

      starting.. the american government has never been separated from religion

      March 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
    • Chris

      Absolutely ridiculous. Creationists are WRONG! There is a little thing called PROOF that shows dinosaurs existed. If they can't get that through their thick skulls then they need to home school because dinosaurs are/were real. This society is going downhill so fast it isn't funny.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  16. Dorkus Maximus

    "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."

    I'd like to meet a credentialed paleontologist or geologist who does in fact believe that people and dinosaurs roamed the earth together within the past 6,000 years.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  17. JHampton

    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. Education occurs in the classroom, not the exam room. 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 sitting an exam 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. The exam room is not about PC, it’s about the kids.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • Chris

      I hardly think words like "dinosaur" or "pepperoni" qualify as biblical references

      March 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Chris

      How is denying the truth a good thing? Dinosaurs EXISTED. To deny that is ridiculous and in no way relieves any "stress" a child has while being tested. In fact, tests are there for the sole purpose of "stressing" a person so this idea is just another way of coddling kids into thinking the real world is "easy", "fun" and without contradiction.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  18. unbelievable

    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 1:25 pm |
    • bmws88

      What did they do to the "like" button?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
    • Chris

      right on. This is one of the worst ideas ever. And we wonder why when kids get out of school they can't read a map, do math or use the language properly. We're behind pretty much all other civilized nations in education and THIS will fix that? Absolute ridiculousness.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • Mike

      I thought it was 57 virgins....

      Oh wait...that's the ketchup!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  19. Jmm

    Hmm, I guess people still do believe the Earth is still flat.. go figure...

    March 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • ByzantineBoy

      "still flat"?

      I take from this statement that the Earth once WAS flat but IS no longer flat... but some people didn't get the memo about our planet's spherification???

      March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
      • Jmm

        Yeah I caught that typo after I posted. 🙁

        March 30, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  20. wrm

    You guys have absolutely NO right to make fun of the South! Pathetic.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:23 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.