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. jk

    A case of extreme stupidity. But the root stupid is standardized testing itself, which indeed is always culturally biased and measures nothing except one's ability to learn a system. Standardized testing does not measure comprehension, creativity, ethics and other aspects of actual education. Indeed, actual education will offend everyone, because by its nature it will question preconceptions.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  2. Daniel

    Oh thank you NYC... I was terribly distressed reading these awful words after an a Dinosaur ate my pepperoni at the birthday party! OMG – are you serious that we are actually having these kinds of conversations??? Florida wants to ban the word "hurricane??" What do they call it on the news? I do like the suggestion of banning "Republican," but think we should add "Democrate," since neither group appears all that ethical or successful at this point in time.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  3. Megan

    The dumbing down of America.... happening right before our eyes. No wonder we are falling behind on academics.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Jerald Gross

      I agree completely Megan!

      March 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Agree, Megan. Tragically, it appears that one of the earlier 'dumbed down' generations is now in charge of making the rules.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
  4. achepotle

    Hope you are proud of yourself, America...this is what tolerating those backwards, Iron Age cultists have bought you...time to hit the reset button.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  5. magnus

    this is exactly why i will sacrifice everything in my life to make sure that my child goes to private school. public schools are factories for stupidity and brainwashing.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  6. M

    I'm very offended by the words, TAXES, CONGRESS, SENATORS, OBAMA, BOSS, WELFARE, UNEMPLOYMENT, GAS PRICES, ETC. these words make me nuts. They should all be banned. What the hell is happening. This has to stop. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!
    So many wants to take away all the good things that make sense to the majority of us. We cannot allow this, it's just so uncalled for and freaky. I feel as tho we are being turned into a Communist Country and nothing is ever done about it. Our freedoms are being taken away right and left for 1 stupid reason or another. Where do these people come from? God help us. Sick and tired!

    March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jerald Gross


      March 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  7. T.S. Elliot

    "..This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper."

    March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  8. joe

    Why don't we just ban "education"

    March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  9. DamnReed

    Hmmm...reminds me of a book called 1984.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  10. HenryMiller

    "this is how we dumb down public schools."

    Yep. And the level of dumb has percolated up to level of those who make these imbecilic decisions.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  11. Tyrannicide

    That photo of the dinosaur makes me want to destroy things...I'm gonna need a game of dodge ball to diffuse these feelings.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  12. notogop

    If the US continues to cater to the whims a small minority of narrow-minded, Neanderthals, we will continue our slide to intellectual oblivion on the world scene. Facts are facts and should be treated as such. Past history tells us that there has always been oposition to change and enlightenment. The Catholic Church is probably the worst of all these past culprits. Even they make some consessions when the evidence forces such change.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Actually, Christians are the vast MAJORITY in the US.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Nothing to do with religion

      Yes, Christians are the majority in this country but they have nothing to do with the banning of words in the NYC school system. If you think Christians are running the public schools in NYC, you are terribly wrong.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Nothing, your point is well taken and correct. I didn't mean to suggest that Christians are in charge of making these rules in NYC, just commenting on the original poster's assertion that the decisions are made to 'cater to the whims of...', with which I agree.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
  13. northernCA

    dumb, dumber, dumbest

    March 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • KarenfromCanada

      Geezuz farkin chryst! First the health care plan is in peril, then the horrid GOP budget, and now this religious fanaticism...all in one week! Canada needs to create more jobs by building a big wall along the border! Lol

      March 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Nothing to do with religion

      Dear karenfromcanada, this has nothing to do with religious fanatics. This has everything to do with liberal politically correct education boards.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • IceT

      If this has nothing to do with religion, it's interesting that it was placed in the "belief blog" section. This is in the article – "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

      March 29, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  14. 3511danny

    You can't make this stuff up.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  15. JP

    Idiotic idea, but what would you expect from such a cr@p-hole town?

    March 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Ross

    Pussification of America. Grow some nuts americans and quit this 'that offends me' bs. It's pathetic.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Daniel in Denver

      Beauty. Thanks for the 'shout out' to George. RIP

      March 29, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  17. Larry

    I would love for them to ban the following words: a, the, at, is, up, who, where, his, hers, him, she, we, dog, bat, donkey, taco, coitus, and el chupacabra.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  18. Ross

    This is retarded.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  19. Gimdag

    I favor this, but only if the list is expanded to prohibit "Republican," since that is a particularly offensive word to me and other rational creatures.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • TexDon

      Add Democrat to the list as well as Libertarian, Rastafarian, Muslim, Jew and Christian...while we're at it avoid using words like leadership, followers, blue collar, white collar, thief, thug, etc...ridiculous...

      March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  20. Dick Tilton

    After writing a serious rant about all this, I reconsidered: This is – hopefully – about improving effectiveness in standardized testing, NOT about limiting pepperoni from school curricula. The goal of standardized testing is to effectively measure performance and/or knowledge. In order to do so effectively, the tests must work accurately and fairly for the population to be tested. This means removing cultural, social and religious references wherever possible. In the classroom, however, this kind of political correctness would be a disaster. All parents need to be vigilant to make sure our kids are shown the world the way it really is, and educated to come to their own conclusions about what's offensive.

    March 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • CalBob

      Sorry, Dick Tilton. I think your comment is as silly as the proposed list. The Stanford prof is right. Education is not supposed to be "warm and fuzzy" . It should make us uncomfortable and make us think. Dinosaurs making fundimentalists uncomfortable? Give me a break. Teaching that there were no dinosaurs isn't education, it's ignorance.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • IceT

      I've considered that very same thing at length, I've come to the conclusion that we can never be fair. Everyone is different and we cannot possibly "equalize" everyone. Some people are better at math, some are more sensitive to pollen, some are better soccer players, some have red hair. This in a way reminds me of ebonics

      March 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • kelloge

      Are you stoned or stupid? How can you "teach" about the words in question and remove them from the "standardized" testing? This is an example of the PC nazis running wild. If it offends ANYONE it seems that instead of standing any type of educational ground, the powers that be are.....as always...in the "what's best for me" mode.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Rick Shultz

      Congratulations Mr. Tilton, on writing the most sensible thing in this whole mass of illiterate bilge.

      March 29, 2012 at 4:56 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.