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. dg

    In 1984, newspeak is closely based on English but has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking—"thoughtcrime", or "crimethink" in the newest edition of Newspeak—impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

    We have to ban/omit words because we're worried about offending someone. Really? Dinosaur? Really? Because some kids parents might go nuts if they have accept that dinosaurs were real and evolution is a fact. Really?

    Sheesh, we are becoming the Soviet Union.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  2. FreeWebGoods

    Well, that's a bummer. However (being slightly relevant) the general word "evolution" should be taught regardless since it applies to many other things than species. For instance the evolution of technology. The only people who never knew of such a thing would be those who have lived under a rock their entire lives.

    However I do have the same feelings about this whole "controlled" education aspect about this adjustment. I am also a fan of the beasts from these eras.

    For the love of life, please do not candy coat subjects like English or History by muffling important details that can prove a good example of critical and innovative thinking. ah, sorry I didn't mean to get worked up like that. This is just one of those things that grind my gears.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  3. Doug

    These so ca

    March 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  4. Jeffrey Schmidt

    Are you serious? Dinosuars actually did exist...there is physical proof, it is a 100% certainty. It is the existence of God that is in question here. This is the conservative agenda trying to rewrite fact (nothing new there, right?) Sad, so very sad.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  5. joe

    If you don't believe in the fossil record then really should you not be eligible to take a test of intelligence because you fail by nature.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  6. Doug Finlayson

    Please – help make our students stupid. ban all words with mo' tha' two syllabs'

    NYC – proudly accelerating the decline of America!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  7. joe

    I suppose pirates and spaghetti should be on that list as well.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  8. leila

    Just imagine the possibilities. Consider not only Italians and African-Americans, but what of Mexicans who live in California and Arizona and Texas? In California we have many underrepresented minority children who have never seen the ocean. Marine biology teachers used to take field trips to the ocean just so kids could experience it. Let's see on the west coast, we serve a Mexican demographic in my school district. By New York standards, we should ban the following words: beans, rice, flour, and corn because like the Italians, they might be offended by mention of their cuisine. Moreover, insofar as our students come from families of field workers, we need to ban the following words: ALL WORDS RELATED TO FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. Let's see...many of our students live in apartments and do not have homes. Some live in motels....but that would be a sensitive issue for some of our kids. Because illegal immigration is a salient issue here, we MUST get rid of the offensive word "border".....wow...we could go on and on....but then we might have no test at all!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  9. longshot

    my first response is that this is absurd, but then again this is just standardized testing – not educating – to measure their level of education, so any distractions or complications should be avoided. no problem, people make more of it than it is in order to push their agenda

    March 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Doug Finlayson

      you are crazy. Banning words? An "educational" organization banning words? In school? Hello! Anyone out there? NYC, the home of people who leave NYC is now banning words, in case uppity kids are smarter than their teachers.

      I can't think of how we can achieve the prison-planet any better than to shackle young minds. What word list will they use to express themselves in an officially approved manner when they are adults?

      you are crazy.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Chris

      What's next? Banning Books? Burning them? It's pretty hard to have an exchange of ideas or discussion when you can't/don't know the words. Another way for American students to accelerate their slide to the bottom of the (world) class.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  10. Please be PC

    Its called a Jesus Pony.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Faithful

    What are they going to ban next? Names like "Dick" and "Peter"?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • They Call Me Mellow Yellow

      Ooooooooo, this should be reported as 'abuse'.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Please be PC

      Peter Dicked Harry in the Jesus Pony!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  12. Marty in MA

    Asif dinosuars didn't exist?
    Catholic schools aren't giving you the whole story either, to those who recommended that.

    Everyone thinks they should have input into education, especially those with no clue or agendas. As a retired teacher, I got out just in time.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  13. smeeker

    The phrases "offend" and "Politically Correct" should be banned. When I see them, I get so afraid that I may be offending someone that I cant concentrate on the test.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  14. Seriously?

    I don't really care what you believe – blame religion, blame leftists, blame Sarah Palin, whatever. Reading the posts here it seems that every group represented agrees that this is ridiculous.

    Our children score higher on tests because test preparers remove words that might cause their focus to wander. The educators look like they're doing their jobs and society pays the price in the form of poorly educated, naive adults who are unable to handle the stresses of a normal life. All of us need to be involved in stopping this kind of censorship no matter what spiritual path, if any, we follow.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  15. dc

    Freakin' Liberals! Can't you leave ANYTHING alone?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • ledlevee

      Really? That's what you get out of this? Creationists are liberals? What planet do you come from?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • phearis

      @ledlevee – He comes from the planet called: Moron-6

      March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Think first

      Leftists? Find me a creationist lefty. Those who base their beliefs on science and logic have no issue with the word dinosaur. It's fun to throw around blame, but even the slightest amount of thought before typing hate might save you from putting your foot in your mouth.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  16. RobM

    Hahaha, why not ban the words? City schools are complete failures as they are anyhow. In fact, why even give tests?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

    Will the word education be banned, because kids sure are not getting educated.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • Mrs. Comma

      And by "sure" you must mean "surely", because you are using it as an adverb. And you also realize that "teamchaos" is not a compound word.

      Who's not being educated?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  18. Mike

    Religion is the path not to salvation, but to ignorance. Salvation (in the very real, practical sense) comes from knowledge

    March 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Nevermind

      Well said!

      March 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • joe

      Agreed. It must be "God's will" to keep power in the hands of the simple minded.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • ledlevee

      You're right. And knowledge dictates that the idea that everything randomly popped out of primordial soup and atoms just spontaneously arranged themselves into cells which formed entire planets, stars, and all living things is a completely absurd notion.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Chris

      At one point the only people who could read and write were in religious houses – monks, priests and nuns. THEY were the only ones who were literate and the majority of people believed every word they said. Sad, we're coming back to that era.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  19. They Call Me Mellow Yellow

    The next word to be omitted is ‘yellow’. It seems like little Franny Mayer from Forest Hills once saw a man slip on a banana peel on Queens Blvd. and 71st Avenue. Thus began her fear of the color yellow. She became so distraught, she couldn’t take any more tests using a #2 yellow pencil. In fact, her parents have convened a steering committee to ask radio stations to remove songs like, ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me’, ‘Here Comes The Sun’, ‘Sunshine Superman’, etc., because they mention the word ‘sun’, which is ….. yellow. And since that awful day when Franny saw that menacing, horrid banana peel cause that man to slip, her parents now refer to their other child, Oscar, as ‘our other child’. To call Oscar their ‘son’ would be calamitous.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  20. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Here is an example of the discussions that occurred during the development of these tests.

    1st person: Can we use the question "What is 3 plus 2" on a test?
    2nd person: Oh, definitely not. After all, an actuarial may have one answer that could offend a CPA. Also, the use of numbers on a test may offend people who do not believe in numerology.
    3rd person: Don't forget, Hassidic Jews ascribe magical powers to some numbers, so we don't want to offend them either by including a question like that.
    4th person: I think we may also alienate any body from an Islamic country or India because they use different characters to represent their numbers and we don't want to offend them, either.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • False Dichotomy

      ...and really you can't use 3 because that suggests the holy trinity, which might cause fundamentalist Christians to drift off into blissful la la land dreaming of heaven. And if you mention 2 you are denying the holy trinity which is blasphemy. And since they add up to 5 (well, that is if you subscribe to traditional mathematics – and it's okay if you don't, we all get to make up whatever reality makes us feel comfortable), IF they add up to 5, well, that means nothing ... which is an implicit endorsement of atheism.

      My point: this is ridiculous. Part of passing a test is the ability to think clearly even if someone dares to speak to you in terms of basic facts.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Chris

      Let's not forget the number 6 – after all, if you put three 6's in a row you have the sign of Satan – 666.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:53 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.