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. Eric

    While we are at it, I have some other words that we need to ban due to their offensive nature. This is in no particular order: Muffin, Weasle, Fluffy, Snagglepuss, Riboflavin, and Orange. Please New York, accomodate me. How about you go read 1984 again and think on it. Morons.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      We also need to ban OJ, cause it kills.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  2. Franchesca

    Tests can be upsetting. Lets cancel them. School can be upsetting. Lets close all of them.

    Good grief!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      Hi Charlie Brown ..sheeesh.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  3. watchtheborders

    The questions most prevalent on my mind are:

    1. Were dinosaurs religious?
    2. Did dinosaurs ban the use of the word "human" in theri classrooms?
    3. If dinosaurs had a bible. would it be the size of mountain?
    4. If I shoot a liberal mime, do I have to use a silencer?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
  4. Donald P

    I respect all religions I don't follow them yet I believe people have a right to their beliefs. I you have followed this GOP primary they have said that people founded this country for freedom of religion. If these idiots knew how to read and had the brains to comprehend what they read, The main reason the pilgrims came to this land was to escape the king of England forcing them to only believe in his religion. There actually was a law passed in England to deny all religions except his.Look it up .It is a fact of history. Yet the GOP and fools like Gingrich and Santorum and their cronies want to force us to except their beliefs.They want to be kings. This is why Religion has no place in Government.

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


      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  5. alateos

    Let's ban the word "ban"

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

      I guess if you did, then ban would be exitnct? The what would Emirli Lagasse sue on his conccotions?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
    • dancingjelly

      AMEN! put it all out there and let people educate themselves. That's exactly what is wrong. So many people coming here from Countries where their Govt thinks for them that when they get here they are lost. They don't know how to do it. I live in South Florida and hear peopel say things all the time about how the Govt should take care of them and say, let's wait and see what the President thinks and what ther Governor thinks and what everyone else but themselves thinks before they even have an opinion. They want to be taken care of and told how to think!! It's friggin scary!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  6. Falcone

    Dinosaur is a loaded word? Personally I'm not good at math and being tested on my math skills makes me uncomforatable, Does that mean nobody should be tested on it. Being sensitive to people's feelings is good but at some point people have to meet you half way. If you can't see the words Halloween or Rock'n'Roll written on a piece of paper without freaking out I'm sorry but that is your problem, not mine.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      We-ell .. (to quote Pres Regan).. 1 plus one being 3, you iz correctomundo.

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

    You know your religion sucks when it requires you to ban words and facts that prove what you believe in is BS.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      a wrod banned on this site is s e x .. also BS B i – S e x u a l i t y

      ain;t that silly .. we're chatting about cencorship and being censored aswe type .. shame on the small heads (no pun intended).

      March 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  8. hippypoet

    the american slogan: retardsR'us

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Tiffany

    Sorry....but our society has become WAY to sensative. I am not religious but I don't get "unpleasent" thoughts when people talk about subjects containing religious words. This is getting rediculous...

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • watchtheborders

      I am religiously opposed to religion as a replacement for science. It's fine as a rule of order for those who need it and/or enjoy it. For those if us, who are ethical libertarians, with a moral compass, we don't need religion, but I can't help but agree that my religious training whilst but a lad, helped me in arriving at my adult moral baseline. All Hail K All Hail K

      March 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  10. leila

    @Nominus....make the test less controversial???? I am not convinced that deleting such words IS controversial. I think it is an attempt to make the test more 'palatable' and politically correct so you will receive less dissension from the community. I teach English in California and I really, really hope such a trend does not extend here. Really, we would have to ban the words like beans and surf (since many of our students have never seen the Pacific Ocean)! We would surely have to ban the words 'lettuce', strawberry' and 'field' since our students' parents work in agriculture! God forbid we offend them! After all, apparently Italians in New York are offended by the word 'pepperoni'!!!!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • leila

      My second sentence above is awkward. It should say, "I am not convinced that the words ARE controversial."

      March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  11. Jim456

    Banned words in a free country? lol

    March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  12. alex

    Do we live in the land of the free or Afghanistan? This sounds like something the Taliban would want to pass...

    March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  13. Ellen

    Is this all they have to do!!! This is just plain dumb!!!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  14. doc doc

    My word! ( no pun intended)

    With that logic we must ban "plate" because it is often used under cakes, and cakes are often used to clebrate birthdays, and one the most famous birthdays is Dec 25th, and that is a religious event...

    When they do this sort of loose association in commercials or on SNL it is funny; I think it is pathetic in this real life situation.

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

      such a sad situation. How stupid has this Country gotten. We can't avoid our differences and who wants to? That's what has made life interesting. Pretending other cultures and experiences don't exist doesn't actually make them disappear! I can't even verbalize what I feel about how scared I am of how stupid our Country has gotten. I keep saying that because that's the only word coming to mind!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  15. AmericanSam

    Dinosaurs existed. It's truth. If a huge chunk of the population doesn't believe it, those of us who believe in the truth shouldn't have to compromise. The truth is above controversy.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  16. Joseph Preston

    What are we coming to as a people and nation? We are going mad! No one can be impartial or neutral. Everyone has a position that is based on what they believe to be true about the world and life. Evolutionists feel that religion has no place in the public sphere because they don't really think religion is true. The Right generally believe in God and so they think religion should be part of public life. Everyone assumes their position is "neutral" and everyone else has it somewhat wrong. That's a wrong self-assessment in itself. So stop trying to avoid these "issues" and rather teach children how to think for themselves about these things and stop training them to be weak-minded.

    Grow up NYC education department! You are the real children here because you have no backbone. Is education's priority to help children to only have positive feelings and avoid anything that requires them to think about difficult issues? If so, what on earth is education about. Don't you see that this approach is why American kids' level of education is slipping relative to the rest of the world?

    You can't avoid difficult issues – they are a fact of life and so you'd better train kids to deal with them rather than avoid them. This whole issue is a perfect example: try to avoid the difficult issues and you just create a new one!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • richunix

      Well said

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


      March 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
  17. Mike

    Let's get rid of all words in standardized tests. Maybe some words are offended that there're being discriminated against. How about words I find offensive like "them", "once" and "can", they should be eliminated as well. How about a test with only numbers? That way nobody is offended.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  18. Jim in PA

    Many flat-earthers... excuse me; "fundamentalists"... in fact DON'T believe in dinosaurs. They believe that fossils were placed there essentially as a prank by God to test their faith.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Really?

      I grew up in a Catholic family, went to Christian school from K-12, and attended many Protestant churches. I have been living in LA for the past 6 years and have debated with several street Evangelists. I have never met anyone who didn't believe dinosaurs existed and walked the Earth. I think your representative sample may be slightly off.

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

    My word! ( no pun intended)

    With that logic we must ban "plate" because it is often used under cakes, and cakes are often used to clebrate birthdays, and one the most famous birthdays is Dec 25th, and that is a religious event...

    When they do this sort of loose association in commercials or on SNL it is funny; I think it is pathetic in this real life situation. GET a GRIP PEOPLE!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  20. Jamie K

    Heck, the word "math" evokes fear, discomfort, and outright revulsion in about 40% of the people I know! We won't see that banned from schools though... or will we? Hmmmm....

    March 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
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