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. hecep

    Now I've seen it all. Say bye bye to multiculturalism. Dress the same. Eat the same. Sound the same.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  2. enkephalin07

    It's not a big deal; those words aren't strictly necessary for the purpose of these tests, which isn't to challenge anyone's belief or recall unpleasant incidents, that can be left to open conversation. It's interesting to see what they consider "loaded" today, and how it'll inevitably change in 4-6 years.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
  3. Rod in Texas

    I can only assume that religion has something to do with it. Dinosaurs can be proven......religions still hasn't so why are we accepting the unproven theory while ignoring the proven one?

    March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  4. Allen

    These are some really dumb people. If you followed their hollow logic they would have to ban just about everything, as someone might get offended.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  5. EnskildUnskuld

    If the word dinosaur is scrapped, I demand that at least the words god, allah, christian, blasphemy, infidel, kuffar, trinity and sacrament are forbidden as well. These words will hurt me, and millions of others on this globe infinitely more than what the name of an animal will do to any person with good intentions. I suddenly remember why I always feel insulted when a US immigration officers asks why I have the intention to immigrate into that county. Apart from guns and gated communities, my children would not be safe from indigenous fundamentalists, even at school.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  6. Thoughtcrime

    "Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?... Has it ever occurred to your, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?... The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking-not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

    George Orwell

    March 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Chris

    Well, I just realized I did a double negative in my previous post... but at least I was able to recognize it as such

    March 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  8. English

    Where is the support on here for the Creationists? I'm not one but I figured if this was a big enough deal that we would be seeing more of their responses. Just saying...

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  9. Larry L

    "Faith-based" is obviously a code phrase for "ignorance-based". Nothing could be more ignorant than ignoring (and fearing) the huge body of science supporting the most basic principles of evolution – just because it appears to conclict with religious dogma written centuries ago by men. Yes, it was written by men who had no concept of all of the discoveries since that time. Nothing is more ignorant or destructive than ignoring advancements in human knowledge.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Feast of Beast

      Well said. 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • Ted H

      Thank you. You have expressed the situation beautifully.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Dale Schladetsch

    Offend somebody!? Everyday in some way someone offends somebody else, plain and simple. So that we do not offend EVERY PERSON, ETHNIC GROUP, CULT, RELIGION, TAXPAYER, NON-TAXPAYER, EDUCATOR, LEGISLATOR, and the list goes on, we need to eliminate all words, colors, numbers and other thing you can think of, because they may become offended??!! Education is learning, so what are we learning here, how to revert back to the uneducated world of our illiterate ancestors?? Come on people– you Educators, are you really serious about this? No wonder many of our youth are so undereducated. Do something positive for once and stand up and do what is correct for learning-educating!!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  11. lee

    .........Ever seen the comedy spin off of "bubble boy"? – that is NYC's children being sent off to the world.....

    March 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  12. Richard Bauserman

    I'm speachless! Educators? I think not!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  13. marinedad05

    And what if some group of people just hate the concept of education, then would, the whole system be banned?

    Maybe, that's for the best. These days, very little education takes place in schools anyway... it may not even be missed.

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

      It wouldn't be banned, just privatized.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
  14. Chris

    And we wonder why each successive generation of students can't 1) think for themselves 2) can't pass a test that requires any level of thought whatsoever; leading to 3) the overall "dumbing" down of the American education system

    March 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  15. PrimeNumber

    Any discussion on a worthwhile topic bears the risk of someone getting their feelings hurt. The only way to eliminate this terrible risk is to limit human discourse to completely inane, vacuous topics. We'll have a wonderfully insipid society and, as the song says, "the world will live as one." Looks like human evolution has peaked and we're now devolving.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  16. lee

    UMM......I propose probably not removing more content from the small bucket we already are teaching out of.......

    March 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  17. Ronny S.

    Only in the good ol' USA. We never hear "news" like that from 150 different countries all over the globe. Only the Taliban and Iran have more limits on school agendas than the US.

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

    OMG, let's ban Democrat and Republican then, they offend me and stir up hateful feelings among too many people.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • kendo23

      Good point. Some other words they might as well ban: Bloomberg. Elitist. changes. rules. suit.agenda.his.buys.third.term.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  19. Doug

    These so called "NYC Educators" should ban the word "stupid" after looking in a mirror!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  20. stofferx

    I guess this is another example of the pussification of America.

    March 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • WRG01

      I believe pussification is banned in the US because it offends what passes for a "man" in the United States these days.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Hot Carl

      Pussification is an understatement. Liberals are seeing to it that some day soon, America will get caught with its pants down again and suffer a major terrorist attack. Imagine if our military was comprised of tree hugging liberal pansies afraid to shoot someone?

      March 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • palintwit

      @ Hot Carl... your screen name fits you. And I think it's no accident. If you're curious, google "hot carl". It's about as inviting as santorum.

      March 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
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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.