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. penny

    Comedy of errors in a theatre of fools ..really. Don't you just love living in the United States of the OFFENDED!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
  2. Mike R.

    So let's see o_O in that case...

    Let's no use "milk" or any kind of dairy product, as it might offend those who are lactose intolerant.
    Let's not use "lawn," as it could offend kids who's lawns are dry and browning from lack of rainfall.
    Let's not use "bread," as it could offend non-christian children, since Jesus supposedly broke bread at the last supper.
    Let's also not use "supper," while we're at it.

    "...and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction." God forbid the children get distracted with tempting mental images of a warm loaf of bread being torn in half like in a Quiznos commercial.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • NEnurse

      television is a loaded word too. no commercials.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  3. Alaneve

    Did you know the Sun revolves around the Earth?
    Did you know the Earth is flat?
    Did you know Adam and Eve co-existed with the dinosaurs?

    March 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  4. Mr. Zippy

    This has got to be a goof.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • NEnurse

      I had to look at the calendar and make sure it wasn't April Fools day. This is absurd.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  5. Joe DiBenedetto

    I should not be surprised, NYC schools do not teach. They merely test-prep so their school can get good ratings.
    But I am surprised that a last bastion of liberals would suggest such a thing.
    How come its ok to express disdain for the catholic church? I think the dark ages are over.
    Dont the rest of the "enlightened" realize that, or is it just an easy target?

    March 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • NEnurse

      I don't get what you're reference to liberals is.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • Al

      The Catholic Church has been molesting little boys, and covering for child molesters for years, not to mention that it's head guy is a backwards Nazi Medieval bigot. Anymore questions, Einstein?

      March 30, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  6. Chuck Steak

    The only good thing that may come of this is that when the Muslems try to force their politico-religious thinking onto the rest of our society, there will be established rules against it.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  7. WrshipWarior

    Another effort to pull our nation further down into the sewers. Policital Correctness has got to be eliminated from from the USA. It has gotten us to a place where we can no longer say, do, or even think anything without the possibility of it maybe offending somebody. As we allow our roots to decay and lose sight of the absolutes and truths that we were founded upon... well it's no wonder we see things happening the way that we are. And this is just one example. I am 54 years old. And I cringe to think how much worse it will get for my children and theirs to have to live through. God help us before it is too late!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  8. Susan

    So rather than talk about "controversial" issues, we should pretend like they don't exist? Because that will make the go away?

    March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • keith

      A standardized test is no place for a controversial issue. The test should be straight forward and fair.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  9. rosie

    Oh for the love of all thing intelligent. Please say this is an early April Fool's joke. People cannot be that upset about a mythical creature that science has invented to brainwash children.

    What? They did that?

    Oh my.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  10. total nonsense

    the only word(s) that need to be banned are all those related to religion. Religion is BAD PERIOD. there is no such thing as god, religion is a mental ilness and those beleiving in god need to be interned at once.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • umm REALLY????????????

      The dumbing down of America.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • VanHagar

      Do really believe that–that people of faith should be interned? Who would think of such a thing? Of course...Hitler? Stalin (and for that matter, any Stalinist regime past and present)? We get it...you don't like people of faith. Are you so offended by our beliefs that you wish us to lose our jobs, our homes, our families, our freedom? You are a very little person.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • penny

      your shrink tell you that?

      March 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Al

      VanHagar, a typical religious nut, who doesn't know his/her history. lol Stalin, Hitler, really?

      March 30, 2012 at 3:03 am |
  11. Snow

    New words to ban.. "Education", "Future"

    March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Snow

      lets add "Knowledge", "Logic" and "Reason" to the list as well.. Kids would grow great after that and love school.. hey, another word to ban.. "School".

      But don't ever consider banning "Morons"

      March 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Let's add all forms of the word "earn" since it conveys the notion that one must work to succeed. Success should be guaranteed to all, regardless of effort...

      March 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  12. WhatNow

    Actually, I think I'm offended by their ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Jim Steadman

    Perhaps we should ban the word "stupid," since that's what we're making our kids.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
    • Marcela

      I know it wasn't the first thing, but its the first that comes to mind I wrote a story in 5th grade about a Tigress who's mother was kileld by wild boars and her siblings were captured by hunters. She learns to take care of herself and hunt and makes a life despite all the horrible things that happens. She thought she was the only tiger left in the world and then bumps into (literally) another tiger when hunting. He scares off her dinner, so he invites her to dine on his capture. They fall in love.And then, I think he takes her to meet the other tigers in his tribe, and her siblings are there, all grown up. They had escaped the hunters after all. She has cubs, and they live happily ever after.Something like that. Complete with what I can only assume were some wacky looking tiger illustrations.

      June 28, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  14. Observer516

    Schools are NO PLACE to practice political correctness. Political Incorrectness is just as educational - in fact, it is thought provoking!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  15. M. Hensley

    This is pathetic.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • adepaola

      Watch it, they'll ban "pathetic" next. . .

      March 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  16. Uthor

    Who could have imagined that The Flintstones would provide the background for a creationist's view of the history of the Earth?

    March 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Andrew

      Anyone who has ever tried to speak to a young earth creationist could have imagined.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  17. CJ

    As ever, it is the religious and their fantasy world that demand reality take a back seat when it contradicts their 'world view'. Which is based in bronze and iron age myths. It is very telling that those who profess to have a close personal relationship with the creator of the universe so easily get offended and bristle when scientific fact challenges their system.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Chris

      Unfortunately this article only speaks from one point of view and focuses on the PC notion of banning "dinosaur" to prevent offending the religious. What it fails to do is also state that this list is designed to prevent offending BOTH extreme views of the left and the right, since it also bans words that are religious in nature (including the word religion). A good case of the far left and far right ruining it for everyone in the middle who might believe in both religion AND dinosaurs (shocking, but it's true).

      March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • TH


      March 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • WhatNow

      Chris, although I understand what you are saying, I have to disagree. Religious teachings are available to all who want them on any street corner. That is where they belong in the religious buildings or in peoples home. If one wants to believe, that is a choice. However, we can not remove scientific information simply because it might offend some religion. To do so would be to step back in time. That is truly frightening.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • CJ

      Chris, when the department of education has to ban the word 'dinosaur' it is actually hindering the understanding of children about how the earth and life on it developed. They existed. Evolution is a fact. There is no reason to include the word 'religion' when discussing natural history, so banning that does not mean anything. If there was a question on comparative religion and somehow you did not use the word and pretended religions don't exist, that would be obscuring reality as well. But if the topic is nature then banning a religious view of it does not obstruct education at all.

      And you may be religious and accept evolution. However, because your mind technically does both does not mean it is doing the same thing. You accept evolution based on mountains of data confirming the ancient history of life on this planet from multiple scientific disciplines. You believe in religion based on no evidence whatsoever. You call that 'faith' because it is a nice sounding word that makes you feel better about it. But it is believing without a shred of evidence which is not something you would do in any other part of your life that has consequence.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Chris

      So...what you are saying is that in a cultural geography lesson, we are prohibited from teaching the basic parts of certain cultures because it's not "based on science". Part of education isn't always about math and science and hard facts. Sometimes it's about learning about other people. How do you teach a child about other cultures when the mere discussion of religion in a cultural context is taboo?

      The part that rubs me the wrong way with your comments is that people do not have a "right" to believe in something that's not supported in hard evidence. I don't believe it's your "right" to decide how people believe, one way or the other.

      It's also difficult for me to understand why people can't understand that some of us understand and "get" science (I'm a geologist so spare me the lectures about our planet...I'm very familiar), but at the same time we feel there's "something else out there". It's sad to see that you either have to be on Side A or Side B and there's no in between. Good luck with that...you can have your religion vs science war, I'll sit this one out and know the facts that I've learned and believe in things that can't be proven or unproven.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • CJ

      Chris. You 'feel' something else is out there. Your geologist training 'inform' you of that? And I do not think you even read my post. I did not say people did not have the 'right' to believe what they want to about the universe. That is not something you could even begin to control anyway. What you can do is tell the people who believe in fairies, the gods of olympus, the gods of the bible, magic unicorns (all of which equally unsupported by evidence) that they do not have a 'right' to be offended by scientific discovery or in any way affect what is taught in school. When the religious stop demanding their views affect other people in terms of education for children or with their romantic choices and becomes a totally private matter then I will leave it alone.

      And 'spare' me your scientific credentials. You 'feelings' duly noted. Just acknowledge that your religious feelings are based on nothing but your wanting them to be true and be honest about it.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  18. Mike

    "he New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”"

    So what? It's not my problem that FACTS upset Fundamentalists.....

    March 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  19. Huh?

    You've got to be kidding me :-/

    March 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  20. Chris

    A lot of you are blaming religion and the "right" for this banned word list...but playing devil's advocate, realize there are many words referencing religion itself that are banned as well...so it's coming from both directions. This list isn't a product of right wing extremism. It's a product of political correctness. If you're religious and the word "dinosaur" offends you, you need to get a life because there are many larger issues to worry about. Ditto if you're non-religious or atheist...if the word "Christmas" offends you, I'd suggest you're a bit too sensitive since many people in this nation do not share your view.

    Since when did being "tolerant" mean banning and erasing any evidence of other people's beliefs and opinions? I'd argue that's "intolerant'. I'm very religious (although not publicly so), and my best friend is an atheist. He's got his opinion, I have mine...doesn't mean I have to dislike him for it or vice versa.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
    • CJ

      People do not have a right to 'believe' anything about the universe and demand respect for it. When we are talking education and facts of this history of life on this planet, we go with the best evidence available to teach our children. And the best evidence points to a planet that is several billion years old and a life process that has been going on for almost as long which has led to dinosaurs, which existed, and then to us. You do not have to 'tolerate' the idea that despite all the evidence, this never happened. Nor should you tolerate the idea that, equally void of evidence, this world is the product of an alien simulation. You tolerate others views on matters of opinion. You do not have to tolerate views about nature that are completely unsupported by the discoveries of science.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Chris

      CJ, I think you have me confused for someone who would argue with you...I'm not. I'm a geologist and I'm well versed in the theories and facts regarding evolution and geological history. I do NOT advocate teaching theories that are merely based in religious views.

      HOWEVER, I think in that battle, we've started eroding the ideals that we should have a basic respect for each other's opinions and beliefs. For example, my best friend has a lot of respect that I do believe in a deity or whatever I choose to believe is "out there", and I respect that he does not. Having that basic respect for each other does not imply that means I adovcate we must teach religious theory in schools. Religion is a personal belief and should remain that way. For what it's worth, I know of one atheist who personally feels my and many other's religious beliefs (whether we keep them to ourselves or not) is a "scourge" that he believes should be outlawed. THAT is where I get upset.

      March 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Christine


      March 29, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Al

      Chris, the Right is passing and pushing legislation to make Bible study mandatory in public schools. Look what's happening in Arizona right now. The Religious Right is out of control. They're already re-writing text books in Texas, which is where they all come from, to keep in line with the far Right's viewpoints, especially on social issues. Have you completely missed their demands for Creationism to be taught in schools??

      March 30, 2012 at 3:06 am |
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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.