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. Tex71

    Maybe we should ban other controversial words like "gravity", "outer space", and "water cycle" (since as we know, "the LORD maketh it to rain"). Heck, why don't we just ban science altogether – just teach Bible study.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  2. Buk Lau

    As a follower of Raptor Jesus, I am offended by this censorship. I for one welcome the return of our dino-overlords.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  3. D

    Is this a joke? Seriously. I don't have a whole lot more to say other than that, because that is pretty much all that needs to be said after reading this article. All you creationist ppl need to step up to the plate and just accept the fact that evolution is how it happened. We have scientific proof that the world is significantly older than 6000 years. Just adapt your 'stories' to make it fit. That's what has always been done throughout the ages.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • B. F.

      I'm a Christian with s strong faith in Jesus. I too think this is ridiculous. I don't have a problem with the word "dinosaur" or any of the other words listed. I'm inclined to think that this ridiculous banning of words is being promoted by non faithful (of any religion) people who only want to create divisiveness. The people of NYC need to resist this kind of Nazism.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  4. james pfeiffer

    Slowly but surely the right-winged, pea-brained, fundamentalist Christians are hijacking this country. If anyone believes these people are any different from radical Islamist mentality they are kidding themselves...this is how it all starts! These small minded people are circling the wagons and taking common sense down with them. They're taking over school boards, political offices, police stations, businesses and just about every other corner of society..including your bedroom and private parts. What's next, ban history books, lexicons, dictionaries and any literature that challenges the simple minded?? Texas already has a head start in this area. Mark my words, if things continue in this scary way, the Christian thought police will report you for anti-Christian behavior. You may laugh, but this has happened many times through out history and always with catastrophic results.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • astonished european reader of this article

      James, how true, and how well-said.. hey american people, just let us (european people) be reassured, you won't let such things be done ? I think you are numerous enough to be able to stop this horrible slip of your country to an unbrained -extremist – religious country in a short future !!!!!! You are frightening us !!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Sean

      I do not agree with fundamentalist Christians, but, if they were behind this list, do you really think that "Christmas" would be one of the controversial words? I don't.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
  5. keith

    when i was a kid, i was told to shut up and sit down. not, "well, what would you LIKE to learn?"

    March 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  6. FauxNews

    I think the word "education" evokes more fear in kids than "dinosaur".

    March 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  7. Old Yeller

    Test for Comunism:
    1. Ban daily used words from test
    2. Ban daily used words from public speechi.

    What next?

    March 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • RandomOne

      What's next? Hopefully someone will learn how to spell communism.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Old Yeller

      Random One, If it was spelled correctly, it wouldn't have made it in Sound off......

      March 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • SFW

      Communism has nothing to do with free speech... it's an economic system. You are probably confusing it with an absolute dictatorship.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  8. mindful in NY

    So, they want to teach the children to avoid anything and everything unpleasant. Nice. I thought that was actually part of the learning process but i guess that I am wrong.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  9. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Scaring children into being distressed over these words is a form of child abuse. Allowing the continuation of distress over these words is nothing short of enabling the abuse.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  10. Eric G

    Good idea! Next, lets ban words like "proof", "Science", "Chemistry", "Biology", "Physics", "Astonomy", "vestigial organs", "heredity", "chromosomes", etc. I mean, won't they also offend Creationists? Don't believe in Evolution? You do believe in dogs, right? A hundred fifty years ago there were only about 40 breeds. Now there are 400. Where did they come from? Why do snakes have hip bones? Why do we have tail bones? Why do Ostrich's have wings when they certainly can't fly?

    Creationists can believe whatever crazy thing they want, it doesn't mean the rest of us should have to suffer under the tyranny of ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • keith

      dinosaurs = conspiracy = crazy people = where do i live?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  11. blog writer

    The continued dumbing down of our students by bleeding heart liberals. Don't say anything that may evoke emotions! This is everything that is wrong with education today. Don't speak about relevant issues that may make someone sad. What a bunch of bull our educational system has turned into. Why not speak about wildfires and Hurricanes in a context that teaches preparedness? Or weed as in why you probably don't want to smoke it? These issues are not going to go away so we need to teach our children how to deal them as responsible adults not sweep them under the rug because we have lunatics running our schools.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Eric G

      Gotta call you out on this one. The "Liberals" you speak of are the ones fighting against this sort of ignorance. It's fundamentalists on the Right that want to ban Evolution being taught in schools.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Chris

      How do you pin this on liberals? I think you have a very distorted perception of the world.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • james pfeiffer

      blog writer....I think you've got it all wrong. Bleeding heart liberals are not afraid of the word dinosaur, rather it's the the far right, born again, fundamentalist, anti-intellectual, anti-science"creationists"! What the hell ever happened to common sense?

      March 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  12. Suzanne

    Ok, that is just the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Our education system is becoming the laughing stock of the world. So anything someone might disagree with we should just not mention? I really have a problem with war, but I sure had to learn about it in school every darn year.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  13. keith

    Some people are afraid of heights, so don't talk about anything over 10 feet. No spiders or snakes. And actually tests freak me out. Can I have some candy?

    March 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  14. squawks

    Do our education departments have nothing better to do with our tax money? What if those working on idiotic things like this were fired? Then their salaries and our tax money would both be increased for serious items. I am at an end catering to every group out there. We are all Americans, raised in public (private) schools, and that education should be tested.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  15. dave

    I'm a Satanist and the Christians are infringing my religious freedom, please ban them. Thank you. All Hail Satan!

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

      Satan and Christians come from the same book so there is no need to ban it. It might help if you actually used your brain once in awhile.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Dale Schladetsch

      I agree with Duh. Read the Bible, and actually it is not a book, but a collection of books. Satan is actually a fallen away Christian as it seems you are also, unfortunately. And I am quite confident that you would not be asking for Satan to save you from an impending airplane crash nor would you be asking for Satan on your deathbed. And seriously, I do not understand how Christians are infringing on you; you have a choice, a choice in not to listen to them as much as we have a choice of not listening to you. Christians of all faiths are those whom built this wonderful nation of ours,- yes even for you to enjoy and partake in. Embrace it and get along with them.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  16. cynic

    The dinosaurs they were looking to avoid upsetting were the ones in Congress.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  17. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Being offended by these words is cause for counselling not coddling.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Matthew Petersen

    Professor Sam Wineburg,
    You are my new hero!!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  19. SFW

    This isn't benefiting students, its catering to parents... and not just parents – parents who would be offended that the school system references birthdays or dinosaurs or pepperoni. Even if you do not believe in these things for religious reasons, exposure to them is part of the experience... you are making a personal sacrifice for your beliefs, which is strengthened by exposure to the fact that others "indulge" or "believe". Any parent who takes offense to words like these is in fact a bigot, and probably not all that bright – so in essence NYC Dept of Ed is limiting the educational experience of its students in order to pander to bigots. Nice.

    March 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  20. Walter

    I demand they ban the use of all types of pasta in tests as it offends my religion to use them in such mundane practices.


    March 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Eric

      May you be blessed by his noodlie appendage.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
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