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. docame

    Banned word list? Are you kidding? So, let me get this straight...we don't say dinosaur because that makes people think about evolution? What exactly is wrong with thinking about evolution? What next? We ban triangles because they'll remind people of Pythagoras?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  2. RAB

    This does it. PC has finally taken is off the edge of the earth. It does have an edge because it is flat. An angel told me so in a dream, so to offer evidence to the contrary offends my religious beliefs. Hence, you cannot say "round" or "curve" or "logic" or "sanity" in my presence.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  3. Shannon

    This isn't even an issue over religion. It's an issue over trying to cater to "everyone" by leaving everything out. Leaving out references to certain foods because not all cultures eat it? All because they think it might make kids feel unhappy? I thought school was about educating children about things they may or may not be familiar with. I feel that NYC schools are losing sight of the importance of reality in a child's curriculum. Creationists are not offended by dinosaurs. None of the Jehovah's Witnesses I know are offended by people talking about birthdays, just as I am not offended by people talking about Ramadan or Passover. This whole movement to keep kids from feeling out of their comfort zone is just going to produce a whole new generation of Americans who are incapable of dealing with real world problems and looking beyond the walls of their own sugar-coate upbringing.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  4. Win Adams

    Are all of these people crazy? Where are they coming from? Do they seriously believe that banning these words will keep students from using them? What a bunch of idiots!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  5. Ignorant

    Are you kidding me? Banning non-swear words from tests? Becauase someone might get a mental bubu? This is the most idiodic idea I have seen come across my eyes in years. Back to the year 500AD for New York.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  6. Patriot

    Yea, I'm sure this will happen(sarcastically)... I'll believe that when they want to start forcing everyone to buy their own healthcare by law! oh....nevermind..

    March 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  7. Joyce

    Has this world gone completely crazy? Because a word may offend an adult we are taking away from a child the privilege of knowing what it means. Then we wonder why the US is falling in rank of educated countries. I wonder if the people making these decisions to eliminate common words from tests are really trying to justify their jobs?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Ignorant

      You are so right. North Korea is ahead of us now for educational standards.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  8. Theorist

    To say that what the Young Earth creationists are preaching is a "theory" is like saying that the belief that the stork brings newborns is a "theory". What they are preaching is a belief system and is in no way a theory.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  9. GodPot

    "I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator, and it is self-authenticating and self-attesting. I must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside!" "the reason they don’t believe God created in six literal days is because they are convinced from so-called “science” that the world is billions of years old. In other words, they are admitting that they start outside the Bible to (re)interpret the Words of Scripture." Ken Ham – answersingenesis.com

    Flat Earth Society Mission Statement "The mission of the Flat Earth Society is to promote and initiate discussion of Flat Earth theory as well as archive Flat Earth literature. Our forums act as a venue to encourage free thinking and debate."

    Yes, much like our public schools testing, education should start "outside the bible" and then parents can try to force what we know of the universe into their book or into a flat earth theory or their "so called" religion if they choose, though why any parent would willingly choose to make themselves look stupid in front of their children I do not know.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  10. hippypoet

    america the beautiful, america the brave , america the retarded!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  11. 4th wright

    I have additional recommendations: Eliminate the words "September", Twin Towers, Airplanes, Ground, and the numbers Zero, 11, and 2001.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • Gesus

      I advise banning the words" Department of Education" since those words offend me based on their list of words that offend.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  12. watchtheborders

    If a man is walking in the woods and there's no dinosaur present is he religious?

    March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  13. willy

    Besides, when did it become a law that no one would be offended. It happens all the time.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  14. N. E.Davison

    I agree that the purpose of education is to challenge, not protect. Two years ago, in China, I was asked to teach a course in oral English that involved current events. I mmediately pointed out that current events might well involve the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, human rights... How should I approach this? The answer took two weeks to come back, time to go up the University administration and back down. The answer was: "These people are adults. If they are ever to go overseas, they will need to face these questions. Teach what you want, as you want." I have done exactly that for the last two years. I approach the various subjects from the viewpoint of how to detect bad reporting, biased reporting and frankly false reporting. I have received only the highest encouragement from both students and administrators. Challenging students strengthens students; excess protection yields people who can't deal with reality.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  15. Disgusted by Fools

    I didn't know that Fools were a recognized interest group. NYC, no concept is offensive to no one because at least someone opposes everything. Go with the science; ignore the deliberately ignorant; and let your policies be free of religious influence.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  16. watchtheborders

    Let's ban the word "tenure" to start !

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  17. Thomas

    How can those who are responsible for the education of our children be so dumb? Perhaps we should be sure that words such as 'idiot', 'ridiculous', 'ignorant', 'dumb', 'moronic' and 'stupid' do not appear on the test as well. Those words will doubtless offend the test planners to whom those words most certainly apply.

    Wineberg is absolutely correct. The purpose of education is to teach us to think by challenging us and making us uncomfortable sometimes. I'll bet NCY schools have a staff of 100 or more just working on the 'banned words' list. surely there is a more productive use for their skills.

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  18. marragor

    absurd...we are moving backwards intellectually and raising weak children

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  19. watchtheborders

    No, they tackle it by allowing failure in math

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  20. willy

    Most religious people I know do believe in dinosaurs. "But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs."

    March 29, 2012 at 1:57 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.