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. geoffrey law

    So. Yeah. What happens when some kid's parent is offended by paper or computers? Will we just ban tests all together? I'm an Atheist and I could care less if people or tests use the word Christmas. It's time for people to stop being so damn sensitive and begin focusing on REAL issues.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Bill, NY

    Science is the study of nature, which are the works of God. Creationists theories render them to be nothing more than heretics and blasphemers. From quarks to quasars, all was created by god. Religions always seek to define God. You cannot put God in a box.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  3. silvius

    I think "the" should be on that list if it isn't already. It gives me unpleasant emotions because it's used in THE devil, THE p0rn industry, THE evolution, etc. etc.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
  4. 4th wright

    Howard the dinosaur was sad. It was his birthday, but none of the other dinosaurs at his school wanted to celebrate. Freddy was too busy talking about his Halloween costume. Sarah was sad because her parents were divorcing. Rupert wanted to watch his favorite television show, the one about the purple human, and Mario was sad because his mama did not make a pepperoni sandwich for his lunch box (decorated with Christmas trees). But when their teacher, Miss Eva Lutioni, told them it would be at least 65 million years before the New York City Department of Education would exist, they were all very happy little reptiles. The End.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • MidwestBoy72


      March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  5. Bob

    Absolutely and incredibly moronic. No wonder this country is losing ground every day to India and China. We deserve to no longer be at the top when this kind of nonsense it what our schools are focused on.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  6. miss manager

    Religion is retarded. I can't believe that we are still having these stupid issues in the 21st Century.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  7. Dale

    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.

    And now other cities and states will want to follow suit.

    You forgot computer, this is to show how dictatorship is running rampant in the United States, one or two people or small group think their feelings are hurt, what happened to common sense we the people of the United States the majority.

    When Americans immigrate to another country they don't file complaints that their feelings are hurt and try to change things.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  8. leila

    I foresee a society void of intellectual and philosophical thought. Just sit in your desk and get programmed. You will learn exactly the things I want you to learn, no more, no less.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  9. AT

    No wonder half of our high tech and scientific talent is imported.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  10. Jeff

    OMG! You have got to be joking! First, have we NOTHING else to worry about?! I think those parents who pick over such things need to get a better perspective on what's going on in the world Rome is burning and they're playing the fiddle. Second, it's just amazing how we as a nation have come this far with tests that have had words in them that all of a sudden are deemed offensive. I think some stay at home soccer mom has nothing better to do. Third, this nation was founded on political incorrectness. If we didn't tell the British to take their tax and shove it, we'd all still have a British accent. If words like dinosaur, God, birthday, etc. offend you, well tough. You're not part of the majority in this country, so don't spoil it for everyone else. Maybe move to Britain?!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Zach

      I would move their too, but with the riots and austerity measures it's worse.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  11. Alfred the Great

    This is the kind of policies that makes America look ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Come on!

      Look ridiculous? We are ridiculous!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  12. Pat

    Think of an 8, 9 or 10 year old trying to write about something he doesn't fell comfortable with in a situation where he is being timed and told that his whole life and the reputation of his school depends on passing this test. I agree some of the words may be just fine, however, making a test that ALL children, regardless of race, heritage, religion, experience, or well being can take to fairly assess THEIR learning is difficult. I have been in the classroom with the child who was crying because he couldn't write about a trip to the farm because he had never been to one; not his fault or his family's, or the teacher's. Too much emphasis on tests, too much funding cut from education, too many attacks on the very people we give over our children to everyday. Let's get back on track.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • leila

      Was the assignment asking the child to write about HIS own trip to a farm? Or was it a response to literature question in which he/she learned about a farm and someone else's trip to a farm?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • Jeff

      Boo, whooo, whooo. As I said in my other post, it's just amazing that we've come this far as a country with offensive test questions. And, yes, it IS the parent's fault their kid hasn't been to a farm OR at least seen a farm on TV. You want to get back on track? You're not going to get there by molly-coddling kids.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • sloppyj30

      You may have missed the portion of the article where Professor Wineburg stated, correctly, that the purpose of education is not to make everyone comfortable . . it's more the opposite. I am doing what you suggest; thinking of a child asked to write a response to a question he/she isn't particularly comfortable with. I'm actually picturing my own kids (I have four). My response? Answer the friggin' question as best you can, and if you have some concern, talk to me or mom when you get home. Now, if one of my kids was literally CRYING about a question they didn't like? Wow. I'm thinking professional counseling might be next. Do you suggest we create a curriculum and shape our educational vernacular to coddle the most weak-minded and fragile souls out there at the expense of the other 99%? Sounds like you do. I shudder for any kids under your care.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  13. Zach

    This country is getting ridiculous. The words on the tests have nothing to do with whether the student passes or fails. Focus on giving students equal opportunity!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  14. leila

    Is it just me...or is this a foreshadow of censorship and the burning of books???? Start with words that are allegedly offensive and soon it will spread like wildfire; whole books will be banned from libraries (they already are in schools) since ANYONE can perceive words as offensive. Pepperoni? Really? I am from Italy and I am offended that they want to BAN the word! Hurricane? Dinosaur??? We will have a society of programmed robots.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Nonimus

      It's just you...

      This is for a specific test or tests in a specific situation, NY standard testing. How often is that happening once or twice a year? If you want to get an accurate idea of what a child knows about English, why not go out of your way to make it non controversial, so the test is, as much as possible, only about English.

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

      This country needs more people like you, seriously. I wholeheartedly agree.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      Yeah, it's just you.

      Regardless of how idiotic the notion is to not allow certain words, I don't think this will lead to book burnings.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  15. David

    I guess they better ban the teaching of Geology too since it proves that the earth is billions of years old.....

    March 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • tad pole

      The word Geology itself is offensive as it implies that it is the *Study of the planet Earth*, however it merely covers one side of a very complex subject and ignores the entire aspect of what our Creator did. I have nothing against teaching, but these one-sided indoctrination courses are not helping us to learn the proper ways in life.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  16. apstar

    May as well ban _all_ words from school, since people will always find _something_ offensive. Why not just give up trying to educate children in school the first place? They can learn all the stupid things society has done by watching movies and TV and being sucked into the electronic age so they can become mindless zombies that follow the whims of consumerism and government. What a sad state this country has fallen into.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
  17. Nonimus

    It's silly to have the word "dinosaurs" evoke "unpleasant emotions," but who cares. This is a standardized test for "math and English tests for the City of New York" and dinosaurs are unnecessary in such tests.

    If this were a science test, or biology test, and such a word was banned, that would be a different story, but English? Naw, let it go...

    March 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      If the lawyer from Jurassic Park were still with us (God rest his soul), he would probably have the word dinosaur evoke unpleasant emotions.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Fortunately, he's already past his English exams.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  18. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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


      March 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Then I pray you'll wise up. Atheism is far healthier than belief in things for which there is no objective evidence. Atheism is based on rational thought. Religion is irrational by definition. Nobody ever started a war in the name of atheism. Atheists never burned people as "witches" or threatened people with imprisonment for daring to state that Earth is not the center of the solar system. Everyone has the right to be religious, but don't suggest that rational thought is somehow "unhealthy." Also please keep in mind that had you been born in Pagan Europe, you'd be worshiping Thor, Odin, or some other Pagan gods. The Pagans' gods were as real to them as yours is to you, and the Pagans had exactly as much evidence to support their beliefs as you do: none.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • just sayin

      To be born when thor was an idol you would have to be over 1000 years old, that doesn't work. Wisdom is given of God, there are none wiser than those who talk to God. God bless

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Jesus

      ~Lying is a sin, you've been proven a liar over and over again on this blog. A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!. .

      March 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  19. Kyle H. Davis

    Know what frightens me the most? Not the words, not the removal of the words, not the PC mentality that lead to this... it's that they are using standardized testing.

    I KNOW some people have a feeling that this is needed, but once you go to a nation, like China, where standardized testing is the norm, you will see the horrible problems with it. Teachers teach to pass tests, and that is it.

    I've seen university students graduate with a degree in English Education or Business English, who literally cannot carry on a conversation in the language – but they passed the national standardized testing (on several levels).

    When you teach students to pass a test, they are not remembering anything about the real subject itself, they are only remembering answers to tests.

    For the love of God, America... stop it. I'm begging you.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  20. biggal195

    Florida bans the use of phrases that include the words "Hurricane" and "Wildfires?" Do they think that by not being able to spell or define the words they will be able to stop these phenomena? Gee, if that's the case, they should also ban "pythons" and "African rats," and for that matter, maybe even "shark attack" and "alligator attack."

    March 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • Sarah

      I suspect the idea is more that you'd like to avoid having any students with PTSD as a result of hurricanes or wildfires (of which Florida might have many) suddenly getting a panic attack in the middle of an exam, when they were in the middle of a math test and didn't expect to be confronted with the topic.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Carrier

      If seeing a word sends somebody into a panic attack, then they wouldn't get very far in life. Especially common words like hurricane or wildfire. Better ban the word fire too... or car... or boat.

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

      maybe if we taught our children how to deal with life instead of placing them infront of the television (lol)
      then at least they wouldn't be subjected to PTSD, but instead just deal and move on like a well adjusted human!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:49 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.