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. The Jackdaw

    So, lets start taking bets: How long before this country compleatly falls apart? I dont care what the reasons are, lets just make bets based on time alone. I say, 40 years and I wager 4 feet of rope and a bottle of Vodka, which will be highly valued after our collapse.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Fenris

      No bets. The responses here tell us that most of us recognize idiocy like this when we see it. Dinosaur, dinosaur, dinosaur. Weed, weed, weed.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • believe

      some of the greatest nations in the history of the world were christian nations. such as america. and some of the greatest minds were christian minds, such as isaac newton. i don't think religion or even cultish behavior or strange beliefs necessarily causes the downfall of a nation. for example, i believe dinosaurs coexisted with humans and i believe the world is under 6,000 years old. however, another person may believe in carbon dating. i would like to suggest that both are religious beliefs, both can never be proven in a scientific way that is non-tautological. greek civilization flourished while many of their citizens believed that men had more teeth than women.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • pat

      @believe – many modern humans contain Neanderthal DNA. This recently discovered fact tells us that our ancestors mated with the other human species that existed at that time. Besides carbon dating, are there any other widely regarded scientific methods that you consider false because it contradicts the idea of a young earth?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  2. aaron

    hey, i know that religion is a joke, but, seriously? stop banning words!! why don't you just start burning books.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      They dont plan on burning the books until after this country collapses and we need to stay warm in the winter.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      What readers of this article can't seem to comprehend is that the word "religion" was also banned, so as to not offend aetheists. A little selective reading on their part, I imagine.....

      March 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  3. Dop bop

    I am offended by all the words in this article. I hope someone takes up my cause to ban English from America. I am so excited becasue I know in America they like to bend over for others and foresake their own interests. I love America and its crazy ways!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • raccman

      Why not go "all the way" ? With the caliber of students in most big cities, or lack thereof, why not have them take tests – all in pictures ? And, of course make all their textbooks ILLUSTRATED only !!!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  4. SpotOn

    And I thought that all the wing nuts lived in Arkansas and Tennessee. Well, sure ban dinosaur if you must but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. And while you are at it, you might as well ban, "Sun" because it displaced the Earth as being the center of our solar system, "bacteria" because there's no reference to it in any of the western religious mythology, "astronomy" because it has proof that the Earth will be swallowed by our Sun in a few billion years, and what the heck, "algebra" because kids don't like it anyway.

    America the beautiful has become the laughing stock of the world and with idiots banning science we're also well on our way to becoming an ignorant 3rd world country.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  5. cecilia

    I have an idea – how about banning Republican, Tea Party, religious right, Koch Brothers, ALEC – these words will surely cause concern amount liberals children – oh, I forgot for a minute we don't give a tinkers dam about liberal kids, or gay kids or black kids – only the white anglo saxen religious right

    March 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • B

      It's amazing to me how people find any reason to attack those that disagree with them. This comes from both sides (atheists v christians, left vs right, ect.) and is one of the main issues behind the problems in this country now. This was not a one sided religious, racial, or poltical article, there are words that "offend" fundementalists (dinosaurs), athiests (religion, christmas), blacks (Christmas instead of Quanza), non-Christian religions (Christmas again) just in the few words listed in the article. It's on both sides and even covers some of those you speciafically pointed out as not being cared about. So get off your high horse and realize that not everything is an attack on you precious "disrespected" belilefs.

      By the way I don't believe any of these words, except divorce, have any real reason to be banned.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  6. believe

    humans and dinosaurs clearly coexisted. that's how dragons happened. i doubt a human would see the fossils of millions of years old dinosaurs and see the similarity to contemporary reptiles and make up dinosaurs in their mythology. that is just way too complex and complicated way dragons came about. however, occam's razor suggests that humans created dragons because they coexisted with dinosaurs, thereby proving evolution wrong.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      Someone with a knowledge of biology would tell you that humans and dinosours coexist TODAY by virtue of alligators, sharks, and sea turtles. No need to believe in dragons to prove that theory.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  7. Mikky_H

    Jesus Wept! This is ridiculous! We can't refer to dinosaurs in case it upsets fundamentalists? How are we to refer to them then? Evolutionarily Challeneged Creatures? "Bob"?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  8. Dugh

    me no not what talk bout. Me all word banned. No word to leave comment.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • The Jackdaw


      March 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • El_Smusso

      Hahahaha hillarious!

      March 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  9. pat

    The term reach-around shall no longer be used on standardized tests.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  10. CJ Dinsmore IV


    March 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • Tree plop 5000

      I agree with you and my wife is a recent immigrant. 😉

      March 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • JB


      March 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  11. 23

    @Alex Gessong I agree 100%! This is education. If you would like to stay willfully ignorant then don't go to school.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  12. Jim in PA

    Reading these comments underscores how America would be much better off without the condescending fundamentalist and militant aetheist freaks spouting about their "one way." Free thinking is the enemy of these people. For all of their mutual hatred of one another, they have so much in common.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • pat

      what is a militant atheist? What person or group do you refer to please?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jim in PA

      Pat, you can read several examples in the comment thread below. I'd rather not hijack the thread with a petty flame war by naming names. Read down and see for yourself.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  13. Reality

    Anyone want the US to become ignorant and fall behind countries like North Korea and Haiti? Ohhhh but New York does. I hope they can read this statement, half my words are probably banned from their vocabulary. China, come on in! You have just now passed up the US for knowledge and information.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  14. kaneda

    Just ban english language all together.. California some school districts required teacher to speak spanish.. this country education is falling apart.. because dumb public school administrations and their power...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      The US never declaired a national language in an attempt to become a "melting pot". So speaking spanish in schools is not against the grain, exactly. The problem comes when we stop trying to "melt" with each other, and become seperate little frigit ice cubes that are overly sensitive and afraid of everything, and that is exactly what is happening.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  15. coder

    with so many people filing lawsuits over the wording of tests – it makes sense for them to regulate which words should be used – so they dont get sued by an angry activist

    March 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      If the word "television" offends you, you need an evaluation.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  16. The Jackdaw

    America, no me gusta learning.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  17. The Jackdaw

    Apparently without the threat of another super-power, America has decided to destroy itself.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • marragor

      Well said!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  18. Den54

    Serriously! come on

    March 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Jim in PA

    Hm. Very sensitive people. Does this mean that all Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut books are off the reading list?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      It means ALL books are off the reading list.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Little Jeffy

      The word book is on the banned list as it might offend illiterate people....in other news, libraries are empty and the government is looking into why this has happened, but struggling since they're afraid to say anything as it could be viewed by someone somewhere at sometime as inappropriate.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  20. Alex Gessong

    We should ban the words "idiot," "moron", and "stuoid", to avoid offending people who cannot deal with objective reality. For some, ignorance really is bliss, it seems.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:04 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.