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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. Chantal

    If anyone is wondering what in the world is wrong with our society, it is concept behind the list that we should have banned words! Why don't we just bubble wrap our children from all potential insult or injury? It is so sad that we are not teaching our children to have 'thicker skin'.

    Guess what, not using these words are not going to make these concepts disappear. You would think with all the 'real' challenges schools have these days that they have their hands full and wouldn't have to create committees to make a list of words that might offend, frightened or upset small subsets of our population. Aaaaah.......

    March 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  2. Fr33th1nk3r

    Anybody ever see the movie IDIOCRACY? it was intended to be hyperbole and way over-the-top, but it is already pretty accurate.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • atheismo

      IPPA Computer: If you have one bucket that contains 2 gallons and another bucket that contains 7 gallons, how many buckets do you have?

      Clevon: Get your hands off my junk!

      March 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
  3. Mads

    It's really funny how scared americans still are of communism, considering this. The slow but secure journey of America towards old Sovjet conditions just took another mofo-leap. Impressive people...you truly are.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  4. Fr33th1nk3r

    I have some other sensitive words that offend Young Earth Creationists and fundamentalists alike:

    LOGICAL
    CRITICAL THINKING
    EMPIRICAL
    EVIDENCE

    But of course, T-Rex had those huge teeth for cracking open coconut husks (according to Kent Hovind and YECs)....not grinding flesh and bone.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  5. Zman

    Why do christians and atheists engage in message board fights? What's the "end game" of such conversations? If you are a christian, I'm sure you don't believe online fighting will bring anyone your way. Shaming someone to see things your way doesn't work in the long run. Fear doesn't have much longevity either. Maybe the atheist is upset from being constantly being judged by christians. So why not just apologise and try not to attack any more atheists. In all fairness they are usually not the aggressors in this kind of fight. Obviously saying "Prayer Changes Things" has not given much success (comes off as brow beating ... no offense). So maybe you should really rethink your goals and your whole approach. No need to come with a quick repost... just think about it for a bit. please?

    March 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • JBryan

      Maybe the atheist are tired of being judged by Christians? Maybe the Christians are tired of being told we are morons for believing. You left that out, but I fixed it for you, since I'm sure you meant to say that...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  6. Pat Walker

    I recently completed a test-item writing course wherein there was a list of sensitive topics to be avoided when writing test folders. When we questioned all the items listed, we were told that during a test, we do not want to conjure up children's emotions. The advisors stressed that most any of the subjects would be safe to learn about at school, but that because it was a test, it was important to keep stressors to a minimum. This made sense to me in a way. You do not want to provoke a group of test takers and possibly cause them to perform poorly because they were upset by subject matter. However, a classroom discussion on controversial topics is always interesting and should not be avoided. It makes school worth attending. It encourages people to define their thinking because they are asked to defend their positions. It is wonderful to get to hear differing views. I recommend that we never stop exploring sensitive issues. But, I do see how there are times and places for the controversy and that maybe on a test, things are best left generic and peaceful.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • JBryan

      Unfortunately, the world does not care about limiting stressors in life. So limiting stressors like the word "hurricane" and "dinosaur" really doesn't do anyone any good. Besides, if seeing the word "Christmas" or the phrase "Rock n' Roll" upsets you, then you're in for a hard, hard, hard life and avoiding those words in school isn't going to save you from it.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  7. Hello

    Lets see... how about adding freedom, free speech, woman's rights, equality, liberty, god/s, 911, death, honesty, truth, fairness,
    integrity, liberal, conservative, donkey, elephant, democratic, republican, president, congress, senate, politics, bunny, reindeer, snowmen, christmas, tree, ...
    how about we also not allow body language, sign language, and sound at all. as we may offend someone.

    just another example of the Age of Stupidity....

    March 29, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  8. Creationist

    FInally!

    March 29, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • atheismo

      Troll.

      Doubleplusungood.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
  9. ChicagoRich

    This is so silly. We can't teach science because it bothers creationists. We can't mention Christmas because it bothers non-Christians. We can't mention Mohammed or someone will attack us. If someone gets offended by addition, will we stop teaching or using that too? This is very silly. The world being a contentious place is not new. We did not get to be where we are by burying our head, or our words, in the sand. We should be teaching our students how to discuss and debate issues in a peaceful and useful manner, even contentious ones that not all students or their parents can agree on. Otherwise we get to figuratively burning people at the stake for having an opinion or stating the wrong idea, even if history later shows that their idea or fact espoused was in fact correct, and a population that knows nothing about how to resolve a difference of opinions without resorting to violence on these contentious issues.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • JBryan

      Luckily, the vast majority of Americans knows this is stupid. This is just done by a few idiots who made their way to the top and will doing anything to avoid losing that position, including doing the slightest thing that has the slightest chance of offending someone in the slightest way.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  10. John

    Taming away these words just reinforces students to avoid learning about differences in other cultures, and instead encourages them to stay in their own little bubbles.

    So why not just make up some words for the word problems? If Zahmua sat down for Relnique, and there were 8 fickwiths available, and Zahmua took 4, how many fickwiths are left?

    March 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • Hello

      none.. because nobody counts anymore..

      March 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  11. atheismo

    Oh George, oh Orwell, thou hast foreseen it: First Big brother, now this: Newspeak. Doubleplusungood!

    March 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    March 29, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      and cue "Jesus" and "just sayin"

      March 29, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Usually not for the better....

      March 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  13. TruthSeeker

    What on earth is this? Really, no one doubts the existence of dinosaurs! What complete and utter nonsense!

    March 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  14. DisReverent

    Words cannot express what I am saying.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  15. Zman

    It finally happened. Our complex beast of Media-Lead-Legalisim has made people to afraid to speak at all. Just didn't think it would happen so soon

    March 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  16. angalina

    better idea, why don't we just not use any words at all?

    March 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  17. RandomHuman

    America is the land of the free. Dinosaurs would be proud.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  18. Mike

    another stupidity made in USA

    March 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • JBryan

      You could always move to China and get arrested for saying "another stupidity made in China".

      March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • !

      Wow- someone finally found something that is actually made in the USA>

      March 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  19. cc

    Wow way to dumb it up.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Jo Ryan

    I find words offensive. Ban 'em all!

    March 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
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