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."

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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. JPR

    I hate to say it, but it's almost becoming entertaining to see how stupid Americans can get. I know I need a stable country to live in and I'll probably suffer a lot during the decline. I don't have the money to pack up and move somewhere else. Not many people get the opportunity to see the fall of Rome from the inside.

    The saddest part is the conservatives will never realize they were the problem all along. They'll witness the collapse and still think it was some combination Jews, brown people, and scientists that brought it down.

    I hope you don't have any pre-existing conditions because health care is toast.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  2. Olaf Big

    I have a new logo for New York State department of education: Ostrich with its head in the sand. Sure, if you don't learn how to spell divorce, your will live happily ever after, and if you don't know how to spell evolution, it certainly does not happen.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  3. SMU

    Wow! This is exactly how adults throw a curtain up between today's youth. Do you really think that 'Divorce' should be banned when 50% of all marriages end up in divorce? 'Divorce', 'Religion', 'Birthdays' are parts of our life. In a digital age where information is at your fingertips, the last thing we want to do is throw up another barrier between human communication. Simply ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  4. N

    Some children are offended or upset by schools, so we should stop educating them. Also, they are often upset by their parents. Why not just release them all to do whatever they want?

    We are supposed to separate religion and State. Religious opinions hold no bearings on the reality that we can observe and quantify, which is what is supposed to be taught in public schools. To those of you who are religious and believe the particulars of your religion's teachings, keep in mind that there are other religions who hold different views that you probably don't want in schools either. You're certainly free to teach your religion to your children, but do it in your own home. If you have a problem with what's being taught in schools, then home-school.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  5. Alex Gessong

    So, if we don't mention dinosaurs in tests, is it still OK to mention dinosaurs at all? We are a technological society. We should not suppress mentioning scientific fact (dinosaurs ruled the Earth for hundreds of millions of years) because some religious fanatics can't accept reality. It's absurd that NYC would even consider this for an instant. This is not the Dark Ages.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  6. Veritas

    Okay...stuff like this is the reason folks coined the word "silly." Pretty soon the will be reduced to using only words with five letters or less to avoid offending someone...but then that might offend short people. Drat! Maybe they could just draw pictures. Darn, that would offend blind people. Maybe we should all just lock ourselves in our homes and speak to no one? 🙂

    March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  7. liveimpact

    HOW STUPID. WE ARE REALLY TRYING TO TEACH OUR KIDS ? or allow them to loose in life.
    When I grew up – there were winners and losers and some who tried to become winners and achieved that goal. But if there is no winners then we are clearly all losers.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  8. Bill

    Did most of you actually read the article? Can you explain how leaving the word Christmas off an exam is an effort to avoid offending fundamentalist?

    While the article focuses on the word Dinosaurs, it was the NY Post that "speculated' it would offend creationist. The NYC school board could very well have used this stated criteria as the reason for leaving the word Dinosaur off the exams "the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students". As a parent of a son, I consider dinosaurs to be over used. They were the greatest thing until my son had a pile of books, shirts, toys, etc. related to dinosaurs. He now finds them boring to the point that he has no interest in even entering the T-REX dinosaur restaurant found at Disney World.

    I seriously doubt the NYC school board was trying to avoid questions specifically related to evolution and archeology, but was more trying to avoid questions like "Little Jimmy bought 5 dinosaur figures....". Todays kids would probably be more interested in reading "Little Jimmy bought 5 songs on itunes..." or "Little Jimmy sent 5 text messagess..."

    If anything this article appears to show that the NYC is trying to make their test non-controversial and at the same time use fresh topics for testing. Get a grip and realize when the media is manipulating a response, and shame on the NYC post for speculating. Its job is to report the news not speculate on meaning. Its the readers job to draw their own conclusions from the presented facts.

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

      The notion that using "dinosaur" or any other banned word because such is/are likely to induce boredom during the taking of a test is absolutely ludicrous. Strike that; it's just plain stupid.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  9. Dawn

    i love dino's put them back

    March 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
  10. jean alexander steffen careaga

    when is the american goverment going to grow a pair and flip the finger to does "oh so sensitives" religious people. the " separation of church and state" is a two way deal!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  11. AGeek

    When *your* religion interferes with *my* child's education, you're going to have a problem with me. Keep your #($%ing religions out of our public schools. If you're offended by the teaching of science and English words, keep your kids home.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  12. Eh?

    Wow. Nothing like taking the fun out of childhood, NYC.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  13. leila

    I just realized something. This article is a GREAT persuasive writing topic for my AP students! They love to do research. This will be great food for thought. I am sure my AP 11th graders are far more conservative than some adults. We have already discussed this and they so far have come with some pretty good points. Thanks CNN....

    March 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      How do the conservative views of your students affect anything? Banning concepts, ideas, and books is a time honored tradition on both ends of the spectrum. This is a perfect example of how ideological liberals and conservatives sometimes have quite a bit in common. This isn't an issue of left vs. right; it's an issue of free thinking vs. rigid ideology.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
  14. TopView20

    I word list goes beyond reasonable concern with many of the newly requested banned words.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  15. Jim in PA

    Geez, kowtowing to the aetheists and religious zealots equally. How ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • dennis

      I suppose they should kowtow to the agnostics who kowtow to both atheists and creationists depending on which one is in the room at the time?

      March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • kiliclika

      If you got rid of ALL the words anyone may find offensive/annoying/"controversial" your'd probably end up only with articles....and maybe a few prepositions.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      Actually Dennis, agnostics don't kowtow to anyone. They are the only ones with a scientifically sound set of ideas; they don't profess to know that which cannot be known. Aetheism relies on as much faith and unprovable certainty as religion.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  16. Dave

    To hell with fundamentalists, if they are upset! They haven't explained why dinosaur bones exist. So now we have to act like they just never did, even though we see them in front of our very eyes? People that stupid deserve to be offended by knowledge.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      I hope your "to hell with" list includes aetheists as well. I see the list of banned words includes "Christmas" and "religion."

      March 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • dennis

      To hell with religious people in general. Atheists can stay.

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

      Jim, "Christmas" offended the Jewish folks and the folks who celebrate Kwanzaa.

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

      Clearly, you didn't read the article.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • Jim

      Right? Everything about this article offends me! This PC crap just keeps getting worse and worse and all it does is make us look more and more useless.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  17. *facepalm*

    Perhaps all tests could be administered only with simple pictures and drawings utilizing only basic shapes and colors. Or we could just give everyone an 'A' and a trophy for being super-duper special.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  18. however

    Noticed "Witchcraft, sorcery, etc." last on the alphabetical list of banned words and phrases. Does that mean any or all "Harry Potter" books will be removed from a teacher's classroom library, or even from the school library? If so, some students may feel disappointed, but some adults may feel empowered.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Josie

    Funny, I don't think of Paganism when I read Halloween, I think of candy, costumes and having fun...oh and I'm Pagan, we celebrate a religious holiday on that day, but most of us don't call it Halloween. How is dinosours even threatening to those that believe in creationism, my cousins were taught that way (forget evolution) and the boys loved dinosours!!! Stop worrying about offending others and teach. What are these kids going to do when they get to college? I'm getting a philosophy degree and trust me, God is brought up A LOT in that degree, and most everyone here is required to take a basic philosophy class for their gen eds. Good luck people, but don't bother.

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

      Apparently it's not ok to offend fundamentalists but it's ok to offend pagans?? I remember the day when we celebrated Halloween in school. Now kids are absolutely not allowed to bring costumes to school. What is happening to this country!??!?!?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      you sir are a tool

      March 29, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • AGeek

      Please point to definitive proof of your hypothesis. Or at least some conclusion turning your hypothesis into a working theory.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • dennis

      Well, I guess that's true, because you "say so", I guess that's the only type of debate you're used to when you're a religious idiot and pray all day to empty space for that nothingness to solve your problems for you...

      March 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • dennis

      child molestation by priests is not healthy for children and other living things, incidentally. I hope you don't send your children to a priest to learn how to get on their knees...and 'pray"...

      March 29, 2012 at 1:57 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 |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106
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.