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. SteveO

    Creationists believe in the existence of dinosaurs, just sayin'

    March 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  2. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    CNN should be ashamed in giving YEC any coverage. If these lunatics gain more power, they will undermine the future financial prosperity of this nation. That is because science deals with reality, and creationism deals with fairy tales - how can a blind nation compete with nations that utilize their sensory organs?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  3. David

    This is not education, it is capitulation. The purpose of education is to enable understanding of observable facts so that people can make rational, sane choices. This makes some people uncomfortable because sometimes the facts contradict what they choose to believe. The desire of some parents to prevent facts from replacing false beliefs cannot be allowed to distort education from its true purpose. Leaving educational decisions to parents, some of whom believe horrible untruths, is fundamentally wrong. Being fertile is not sufficient qualification for making decisions that could end up affecting all of mankind. Won't send children to school to prevent them from being exposed to things that might make them "uncomfortable." People need to be taught to think for themselves, not to blindly believe whatever the most powerful people in their lives, thier parents, have told them.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Brian

    I think we should just ban all words that are even remotely offensive....that way we avoid upsetting everyone....sure the USA will look like a bunch of illiterate freaks....but hey we will be in our happy place..

    March 29, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  5. hawkechik

    (Wineburg) said the goal of education is to "prepare them," adding "this is how we dumb down public schools." So true. Wouldn't it be better to put *all* these words in and let the kids question, and possibly even open their minds? They're not doing the kids any favors with this.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  6. katie

    this is ridiculous. i'm moving to canada.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  7. GJ

    Seriously??? So – now we're going to pretend that dinosaurs didn't exist, wildfires and hurricanes don't really ever occur, tornadoes are fiction, and earthquakes are a result of 350 year old pacts with the devil.

    Has the ENTIRE COUNTRY become overrun with idot-ocracy???

    This country was founded on REASON. Not ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  8. kurmugn

    There is a strong movement afoot to dumb-down students and the public. While everyone has the right to their own opinions, NO ONE has the right to their own facts! Why is there such resistance to knowledge, enlightenment, and truth, and such clinging to ignorance and bigotry?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • notogop

      It's called the Teapublican Platform. Plain and simplistic!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  9. jennaboon

    Sad... just sad! Dinosaurs existed whether people like it or not. If that offends you, you have serious issues!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  10. rpm20

    so maybe my thoughts offend someone, so i should give up thinking. are these people for real??? the very fact that this is being considered coffends me so what are you going to do to help me now??? the whole polically correct basket of crap needs to be stopped, censorship cannot win!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Labrat

    This is a prime example of the Pussifaction of America.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • FM

      I agree. How did we fall so far??

      March 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  12. EnskildUnskuld

    Wow! The country of American Pie and Police Academy 1,2,3,..., the shoot-them-up GTA and the unforgettable game DOOM now shows its moral superiority by banning the word 'dinosaur'. Kudos.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  13. E. W. Parks

    So, the kids will never learn the meanings of these words. Another step toward nationwide ignorance. The Creationists are somehow offended by the word "dinosaur"—? Don't they have to use it when they deny (if that's what they do) that dinosaurs never existed?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. Mike Breen

    OMG....Double plus ungood ! Quack quack ! OMG...OMG !

    March 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  15. Jason K

    I'm a creationist, I believe in intelligent design. I call him God, others think its aliens, others think its the possibility of macro universes. I don't care what you belief is, there is NOTHING wrong with Dinosaurs, and there is nothing wrong with putting creationism and evolution side by side. I dunno, may "God" created beings that would grow and change, maybe there is no God, what does it matter? NYC, refer to the first ammendment. Also, there are mention of creatures that could be classified as "dinosaurs" in the bible. the book of Job refers to "Leviathan" and "Behemoth". Just a thought, but don't be so narrow minded.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  16. smokeeye123

    Dinosaur is an extremely offensive word. Just the sound of it is repulsing. I am completely for this.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  17. Wagstaff

    We have met the enemy and he is us!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  18. liberal

    they should ban: new york, nyc, 911

    it makes me depressed hearing those words

    March 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  19. Cdn Miss

    You're kidding guys right. Boy I sure hope they plan to teach kids how to communicate telepathicly and learn to levitate cause sooner or later they aren't going to learn how to read, write, or touch anything or anyone Their time would be better spent teaching them how to cope and deal with the real world as part of their education. We've all witnessed the cotton candy affect on kids today. And the future scares the hell out of me.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Hank

    I didn't expect this would happen in New York. Must be the power of Tim Tebow.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:07 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.