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. dd

    The United States is being destroyed by ignorant people! Teachers are dumber than their students. Professional educators are stupid. The US led the world in education before teacher unions, liberal Democrats, and ignorant activists. That is scary! The US is being destroyed by incompetent educators!

    March 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • get real

      Allow me to point out your amazing lack of logic and beyond-tenuous grasp of reality: This article is NOT about those allegedly dumb teachers, it is about ADMINISTRATORS inappropriately interfering with the ability of teachers to teach!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  2. db

    Liberals and nut cases have turned this country into a Politically Correctness piece of nonsince. Protecting your child from seeing or hearing anything does not make it go away, it only makes your child and other child like people unprepared when they meet up with these problems once they are on their own. Those mommies who say that games should not have losers are totally wrong. We need winners and the reasons why people should strive harder, to be a winner! Let you kids be kids and quit coddleing them like they need to be a bubble boy. Geesh, a little real world life would do them wonders in growning up, unlike their parents did.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • get real

      Liberals, huh? Well it's the CONSERVATIVES that don't want things like evolution (a fundamental principle of modern biological science) taught in classrooms!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • db

      Liberals or Conseratives, all the nut cases with a lack of brain power.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  3. Keith

    The pity isn't that NYC has "dinosaur" on its list. The pity is they should have any need to consider it for the list.

    I think "round" should be put on the list because I've taught my poor little Johnny to be traumatized by thinking the world might be "round".

    March 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  4. Colin

    Hell, let's go further. Let's ban all words that "might offend creationists" such as Ice Ages, stone age man, Neanderthals, plate tectonics, continental drift, DNA mapping, lactose intolerance, fossil fuels, linguistics, oceanography, paleontology, archaology, iology, cosmology, astronomy.

    Let's just give these kids Bibles and say, "hey kids, ignore 2,000 years of acc.umulated scientific research, all the answers you will ever need are in here".

    I despise it when the super-stupid get political power.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  5. Portland tony

    If these words are deemed inappropriate, how does one teach about....say dinosaurs? Jeez.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  6. Satanluv

    .I think it should now be law that the letter g should henceforth always be capitalized in case it could fall anywhere in a sentence, paragarph or novel where the letters o and d are also used...that way the devine creator of the heavens and earth will never be offended

    March 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  7. therealsweedie

    In 200 years there won't be any real history left if things keep going in this direction...

    March 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  8. rock woman

    This is nuts. They really think kids haven't heard these words? Don't know what these words mean? Don't use these words?
    Political correctness equals ignorance - at least in this case!

    March 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  9. yahmez the mad

    The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. Some choose to believe some pretty far fetched stuff. We can not have a quality education system if we are afraid facts will knock down a kooky straw man and offend someone. Young Earth Creationists are a good example. There is an incredible amount of proof that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old, but fundamentalists take the word of one book over all the proof in the world. Just because they have chosen a fragile belief system does not mean we have to withhold all natural history from students striving to learn the truth.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  10. Answerman28

    Creation museum LOL.. in inbred Kentucky to boot. What a hideous and embarrassing spectacle. Its absolutely staggering how stupid and egotistical religious people are of all faiths.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • roshinobi

      Yet it's New York banning the word dinosaur.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Worse taxpayer money is funding that!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  11. † In God We Trust †

    Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things...

    † Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here are posted by closet Atheists)
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate!
    **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

    †† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††

    March 28, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • Colin

      Hey "In God we Trust" as an atheist, I must point out that there are some pretty fundamental objections to Christianity that are hard to get around. Now before some believer rants back at me that I am evil, an “angry atheist”, or going to burn for all eternity in hell, please take the time to actually read and cogitate the objections.

      If you have a disagreement with a point I make, post it. However, if you only object to the fact that I said it, please understand that I do not buy into the whole “it is immoral to be skeptical of the Christian religion” argument.

      1. At its most fundamental level, Catholicism requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,700,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,700,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

      While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.

      Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

      2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.

      3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.

      4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

      5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

      6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.a..p.e and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.

      7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $eksual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.

      Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.

      8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.

      9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 360 degrees.

      Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?

      Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      The bible is always right?

      Deuteronomy 22
      22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
      22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

      Genesis 19
      19:8 Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

      Numbers 31
      31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him
      31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

      Psalm 137
      137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • therealsweedie

      Yeah... replace "Atheism" with "Christianity" and you have it right.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Ok whatever

      What a load of caca, and I'm a Christian. Stop drinking the kook aid .

      March 28, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Steve

      I just read that and laughed. I am almost convinced it was a joke...but I know how stupid certain segments of the population are

      March 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Collin @ No I don't have time to read that silly nonsense lie written by silly nonbelievers who will go to hell and be punished so bad on their Judgement Day. You will be one of them.

      Christianity is all about love... unfortunately you guys don't see it. So SHUT UP

      March 28, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      Yes we can all see the love when you condemn people to eternal torture because they don't believe what you do. Get off your high horse.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • yahmez the mad

      I do believe you are off topic, AND off the deep end. Get those meds adjusted.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • moonbogg

      LOL! Either felony stupid, or a good old atheist troll entertaining the rest of the rationalist crowd.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Beelzebub

      I don't know whether this is tongue-in-cheek or serious, but either way it's awesome. I heart fundamentalists. Keep it coming, brother!!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • think for yourself

      I see my creators about every other weekend or so, when I go to my parents to visit.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Satanluv

      Bla bla bla child...grow up...you are n ape that rose up out of africa about 3.5 million years ago and had to get intellligent in order to survive...somewhere along the way the individual became important and someone figured if they could offer immortality they could be in control of a very valuable commodity indeed...unfortunately none of that is based in reality, especially in the contex of what we know today through several disciplines of science...when I was a child I spake as a child...it is grow up time...we have real issues to deal with as a species that your outdated nonsense will not answer

      March 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • moonbogg

      FEED the atheist troll! FEEEEEED HIM! Hes one of us!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • db

      The Bible is a story book only! In the year 1118 there were many different versions of what Jesus did and how it was viewed by different Cardinals. All these different versions contridicted each other and the Pope was the leader of the only super power around and the world was his for the taking. The Pope that was in charge called all the Cardinals to Rome and to bring all their different versions with them. He called a conclave and told them to crate a new version that they would all agree on and to get rid of all the other versions. So over a thousand years after Jesus died we had a new book written on what happened 1118 years before. The current Bible is only a story book and is probalby one of the biggest scams that has ever been put on man. As a Christian, I do not need a Bible to belive in God, nor do I need a commercial Church or special building to pray in. Churches and similar organizations are nothing more than tax exempt businesses that rake in money from less fortunate and then makes false promises to them. Commerical Religeon is the biggest rip off of all times.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Scared

      So, this "In God" person is just a troll, right?

      *hides under desk*
      ...mommy make the stupid go away!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Nöah's Ärk Pärk?

      How did,

      1) kangaroos make the trip fom the island continent of Australia to the Ärk? The flightless kiwï?
      2) immobile Silversword that live in a high altïtude environment only on Maui make it?
      3) how about pup fish, butterflys, etched it
      4) what kind of biohazard container was used to store anthrax, cholera, Ebola, MRSA, etc?

      This is a short list, so it should not take you too long to come up with a reasonable, logical, and non-apologetic answer!


      March 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Brad

      Colin you have no idea what you are talking about!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  12. John

    The phrase "In God We Trust" was not started by our founding fathers. It was formulated many years later.

    The phrase "In God We Trust" appears to have originated in US folklore in the Star-Spangled Banner, written during the War of 1812 and which includes the phrase "In God is our Trust" .

    In God We Trust has appeared sporadically on U.S. coins since 1864 and on paper currency since 1957

    "In God We Trust" was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956 as an alternative or replacement to the original motto of E Pluribus Unum ("Out of many, one"), adopted when the Great Seal of the United States was created and adopted in 1782.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • † In God We Trust †

      Thank you! A person who knows that God was mentioned before the 1950s too

      March 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  13. TheRationale

    It makes perfect sense not to include words like "divorce," or similar touchy matters.

    But dinosaur? You cannot be serious. It is the duty of the education system to teach students proper science, and if evolution makes them uncomfortable, that doesn't change the science on it. Make them uncomfortable, it's real science and creationism and ID should be actively taught to be unscientific and false.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  14. musings

    This from a city which has the world's GREATEST collection of UNMENTIONABLES I have ever seen anywhere. My stars, it's the work of countless explorers and scientists, and this is not supposed to be spoken of for fear of giving offense? The shades of Teddy Roosevelt and Margaret Mead and maybe even Michael Crichton should drag them kicking and screaming to the Museum of Natural History and paddle them with the fossilized toe bone of a tyrannosaurus rex.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  15. Logic

    Too stupid for Science? Try Religion. (Dinosaurs are real, evolution is real....these are facts)

    March 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Ohio Engineer

      Someone should make that into a bumper sticker. I'd buy it.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      Agreed, I'd buy it too!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • ElmerGantry

      May I quote this?

      March 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  16. jed clampet1

    Pepperoni? There is nothing wrong with anice hot pizza with this "Topping" –Just ask the 100 million people who watch the NFL

    March 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
  17. Dave


    March 28, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  18. Charlotte Ballard

    We educators are highly opposed, for the most part, to most of these high stakes tests for many reasons: waste of money, waste of instructional time, no proven connection between high stakes testing and improved academic performance, students being used as political pawns, placing too much emphasis on one instrument or exam as opposed to many instruments which teachers have always administered in their own classrooms, and negating what all those involved with the student know about the student's capabilities and performances in many settings, and on and on we can go. That aside, writing a good test is trickier than people think. Teachers could likely be given better training on writing test questions. Still, words like "birthday" and "dinosaur" are likely being nixed by overzealous religious devotees when those are commonplace words and shielding children from knowledge of those is a fruitless endeavor. Words like "divorce," on the other hand, should probably be avoided on high stakes tests when many of our children who are capable of performing well literally scare themselves witless on test days and miss questions that they absolutely know the answers to because of their fears and overwhelming tensions. We should question why words like "birthday" are being nixed, but we should also be smart and avoid words that will cause any student living in high stress daily to freak out for these ridiculous tests.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Charlotte Ballard

      Also, it is not necessarily teachers who write these questions, in case you are not aware of that.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  19. Tiffany

    before we know it, we're just going to be handing out blank test papers at this rate. silly. i'm moving to Mars, becoming queen and abolishing political correctness. offended? Don't come to Mars.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  20. dino

    If that word upsets you, then you deserve to fail.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • ElmerGantry


      March 28, 2012 at 10:39 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.