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. d langston

    Shades of Texas! I guess if we don't use certain words, history and things we don't like will just disappear.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • leila

      Don't forget Arizona! It banned an entire course of study because it was allegedly alluding to a potential 'overthrow of the government'. I teach Chicano studies and the textbooks do know such thing and even if they DID, it is the responsibility of the teacher to flesh out, critique, and to encourage open dialogue and thought.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Alicia Townes

      I think that this is ridiculious

      March 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  2. jelly

    This is stupid from every angle.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  3. Tell it like it is

    The real dinosaur is the NYC Dept. of Education.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Al from California

    Are we becoming a joke for the world?
    If I find offensive that Earth is not flat, then how many words and subjects will these "educators" will have to ban?

    March 29, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • astonished european reader of this article

      dear Al, no you're not (yet) a joke subject for the rest of the world (where I belong) but.. sure it will come, if nobody in USA says stop to those so incredible things.. and if you believe that earth if flat, I want to say that I believe that blood do not move in the body, and the heart is only of some use for love, nothing to see with blood circulation, could be funny in medical schools.....

      March 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Joe citizen abroad

    Welcome to government-sanctioned new-speak. Ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  6. Dave

    Perhaps it would be simpler to merely ban speech. then we wouldn't be able to offend anyone's strange ideas of what offends them.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Itsall Tuna

      Fahrenheit 451 the 1960s movie where all written language is outlawed because it makes people sad "gives them ideas." The Fire Department is called out to burn the illegal books when they are found. It ias taken a while but that world is rapidly approaching.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm |

    im so sick of the christmas holiday coming under scrutiny, and although not mentioned here, our pledge of allegiance and many other things as well.

    If that is the case, I want Kwanza, Ramadan, Hanukah and any other key ethnic holiday better be off the table for any standard test, etc. I am so sick of americans having to jeopardize the culture of their country to ensure we are politically correct to our foreign and immigrant populations. It seems like everyone is equal EXCEPT Americans and im honestly sick of it. Foreign countries are proud of their heritage in their country and I am of mine.

    Foreign nations are not banning their religious holidays in their country from their language to instill and pave the way and values of christmas within their culture.

    If you do not like our culture, land, words, and what are values, beliefs and what we celebrate... GUESS WHAT... I GOT A NEWS FLASH... there are planes and boats that go the reverse route back to where you came from... its not a mandate to be here, its a choice.

    As for the department of education... you all need to be fired for your incompetence.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • wsulli

      What you confidently claim as "our" culture is a culture of immigrants. It is also a culture that respects the separation of church and state. These two concepts seem to elude you.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Seriously?

      "Our" culture.

      I don't know where you live, but I don't live in the United States of Baptists.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
  8. astonished european reader of this article

    but WHEN will USA grow up and drop religion off science and school things ? this would be absolutely unimaginable in Europe... Creationists says nothing but idiot things, when will someone tell them, as clearly and as shortly than this ? Everyone is free to believe what he wants, to be an adorator of the great carrot, to be a great prayer of Athon or whatever makes him forget the day-to-day life always ending with death, but for God's sake, STOP KILLING KNOWLEDGE !!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Gary

    Let's dummy down the whole school system...isn't that truly what the government wants? And if not, what's with all of the cuts to education? Now they want to block "loaded" words from schools...only in America! Land of the free, home of the brave(and soon to be illiterate and broke).
    Seriously, it is sounding more and more like the theory conspirists were/are right. The New World Order...keep the people drugged out, and uneducated. With all of the troops in Afghanistan, and the HUGE drug problems around the world, it would have been relatively easy to put a huge dent in the heroin production by droppping a bomb or dozen on a bunch of poppy fields, but nope, not a single thing done. More under the table dealings?

    March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • astonished european reader of this article

      "Land of the free, home of the brave(and soon to be illiterate and broke)".
      How true you are, Gary, and how sad to see such a great country who has been the best example to follow for so much european people for so long time, becoming the land of the... unbrained.... (would be such a good tile for a TV show serie, wouldn't it ? last thing in which USA still are THE best creators without any doubt...)

      March 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • leila

      And we are the ONLY country on the planet that does these stupid things while we sit and wonder why Asia and Europe are so much smarter.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Gary

      And you see, it is happening to me also...dummying down...that was supposed to read "conspiracy theorists"...

      March 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  10. i am better then you

    My children shall, if this is the way schools are to be ran, be home schooled. They shall be more intelligent and better adjusted then the rest of america's youth. I shall be amoung few, but we shall be the few who attain gold whilst the rest are content with bronze. (thats copper and tin for any to slow or from the education system of america to know) I asked a teenager who appared to be in highschool was bronze was and he said a metal...I asked again, but asked what makes bronze, and he ignorantly answered the earth.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • leila

      You know, I am a public school teacher and I would support any parent who chooses to home school their children in the face of all this nonsense. Unbelievable to me what New York is doing. They may be applying their new standard to state mandated tests, but believe me, before long, it will creep into the curricula of the school districts and public schools' teaching.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Back to the 6th grade with you...

      With your grammatical, capitalization and spelling errors, you're talking ignorance? You'd better clean your own house first, Dearie.

      Hopefully you're not the educator for your "home schooled" little darlings. That would clearly be a case of "Out of the frying pan, into the fire".

      March 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • beaniewhiz

      Perhaps you should go back to English class and learn the difference between the word 'then' and the word 'than'.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • i am better then you

      FYI – not that it matters really.
      my wife does the grammer and spelling – pretty much everything reading and spelling skills.
      i cover history, science, and math – the wife and i bouce math back and forth.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  11. leila

    It's a "Brave New World", don't you know? It's now 1984. Welcome to the future. The thought police have arrived in New York City.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Well, no...

      It's the thoughtful police, leila. They just want to make sure no one's feelings are hurt.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  12. Shakespeare

    Banning words from tests is the stupidest, quasi-P. C. thing I have ever heard of. Next thing you know they will ban the word "test." We shouldn't be protecting children from words. Words will never hurt them. It's sticks and stones that do that.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • C

      Well, "test" is a four letter word... grin

      March 30, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  13. Mayflower

    That's right. Protect kids from reality so when life happens, they have absolutely no way of dealing with it. This is completely ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • John


      March 29, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • CommonSense

      Right on. I find anyone who so adamently believes in religion to be out of touch with reality. Creationism is a FAIRTY TALE. We evolved from apes, deal with it...

      March 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  14. matt

    You got to be F****** kidding – people need to STOP being so darm UPTIGHT and learn to be offended ON THEIR OWN TIME!!!! I HATE fundies and STUPID people!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  15. Cynthia

    I smell something like Fahrenheit 451

    March 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Book burner

      That'd stink up the joint, wouldn't it though?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Seriously?

      Well said...

      March 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  16. Reality


    Hey, this blog uses a filter for "offensive" words and word fragments numbering (based on the Word counter) at least 165. So in a way the topic prepares the NYC students for the computer world. No doubt newpapers and magazine publishers have word and fragment filters loaded on all of their PCs.

    ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
    co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
    co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
    cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
    cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
    ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
    ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
    ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
    ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
    jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
    ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
    koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
    pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
    pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
    ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
    se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
    sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
    sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
    ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
    va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
    who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

    There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
    Allowed words / not blocked at all:
    raping (ra-pe is not ok)
    shat (sh-@t is not ok)

    March 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  17. MJB

    Ahh NEWSPEAK And The Ministry of Truth – long live ORWELL . . .
    Maybe it's time we stop focusing so much on "sensitivity" and force people to get thicker skin

    March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  18. Mike

    I used to teach in NYC, so this does not surprise me in the least. Education in NYC is a joke and the school system is pathetic. The people who run the schools don't care if students learn a thing, as long as they keep their jobs. That is why I left.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • MJB

      Mike that's everywhere. You should see the kind of "edukation" florida delivers. . .a joke.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  19. julie

    unless the whole test-every question-made reference to this terminology would this be a problem. i could see banning some of the religious terms. but tv and birthday. if your religion is so strict and you fear uneasiness at test taking time they maybe your child should go to private school. what do you think kids talk about. at some point, tv and birthday is going to come up in their conversation.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
  20. Bob

    Me and my people find Math offensive, please ban it.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • leila

      LOL...my students find 'school' a sensitive issue and are distressed. We should ban that too along with the word 'library'. Some of my students have a phobia of libraries....another word to ban.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Mick

      Wow! I found my people....

      March 29, 2012 at 3:32 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.