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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. mariurgiandrobert

    This story has to be one of the dumbest things that I have ever read. People need to wake up and realize that we have a freedom of speech in this part of the world. Also you can not and will not please everyone all of the time. If people are offended by words like Dinosaurs (creatures that roamed to earth in the past) and Birthday (The day someone was BORN) then maybe they should go someplace else in the world where others share there same views, like the nut house. Come on people, REALLY??

    March 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm |
  2. Liberal Larry

    I am a male and I am offended every time I have to answer a question with a female protagonist.
    Hearing about how Suzy has a triangular yard and has to find the area for her garden is offensive to me because I am not a female and this distracts me from being able to answer the question to the best of my abilities.
    I think all test questions should be genderless so that I don't get offended or bothered in any way.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  3. Mike

    No mention of dinosaurs?? Now Barney will be out of a job!!! This political correctness needs to end!!

    March 29, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • chris

      This is the most stupid thing I have ever heard.Do they really think this will improve test scores.I think there out of ideas.Why can't we parents do something to change this?

      March 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  4. Mike

    The dumbing down of America...the softening of words and the overuse of euphanisims...are you kidding me? Now we wont be able to call a terrorist a terrorist because it might hurt his feelings and then he will have to go to the Almighty ACLU. We as a country have gotten so "politiaclly correct" as not to offend some one or hurt their feelings. How pathetic we have become. Now Barney will be out of a job!! Let's remember the First Ammedmant was put in place not to protect popular speech or words but to protect the unpopular ones. So for all those who might be offended by certain words...fyvm and get over it!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  5. Amy

    The reporters have a poor understanding of the issue (or they understand the issue and are deliberately trying to create a sensational story where there's not one). It's not about whether the word is offensive, it's about having words that are equally familiar to all students. If you said, "John got 5 boxes of 50 golf tees for his birthday, and used sixteen when golfing yesterday afternoon, how many does he have left." It's been shown in studies that higher-income children who are culturally familiar with golf will be more likely to get the question right and answer it faster because the children who are not familiar with golf (or birthday parties) will be distracted by that element of the question.

    Like if I heard the question, "Abasah went to a souk and purchased four peppers for that evening's Bissara at two dinars each. She brought ten dinars with her, how much change did she get back?"

    Even though we can do the math, the unfamiliar words cause us to take longer to process the question than if we read, "Jill went to the farmer's market to get four peppers for that evening's salad at two dollars each. She brought ten dollars with her, how much change did she get back?"

    It's a very subtle difference, but when multiplied by a few hundred questions on the test, those extra few seconds per question add up. Therefore, culturally-sensitive test designers try and create tests that will correctly assess skills without favoring one culture over another.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • RMB

      Wait...so where do dinosaurs fall within cultural relativity?

      March 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Kevin

      Are you for real? What kid doesn't understand what a birthday is, or what golf is? A bissara or a dinnar are not at all commonly used words. Golf and birthdays are commonly used words, in many countries and cultures, and you don't need to participate in them, to understand them.

      The purpose of a word problem is to convert it into a math problem. If you get caught up on the words, you don't know what you are doing.

      This is why we are falling behind in education. "It was not Timmy's fault, the questions on the test were not fair, he came from a broken home, he has emotional problems..."

      March 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • Leila

      I would agree with you EXCEPT that some of the words they propose to ban ARE familiar to ALL students, such as divorce, birthday, television, dinosaur and other everyday words.

      March 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • C'mon Sense

      This was the next-to-stupidest thing I've ever read. The article was the stupidest.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • Nik

      Considering absolutely every student in the country learns about dinosaurs in kindergarten, and every school in the country has at least one tv in it, I think that all students are familiar with these things. This isn't a familiarity issue at all. I'm all about political correctness, but there really has to be a limit. This is way beyond anything that can be considered reasonable to do. Besides, the examples you gave are better anyway, they teach a student to actually think some and apply their knowledge to any scenario possible. like they'll have to in the real world. We can't live life in a bubble.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm |
    • Mozart

      Then I would like to suggest that instead of "banning" words like BIRTHDAY and GOLF TEE, they take a few minutes and start teaching kids what these common words mean. I want my children to have command of the English language so that they will feel comfortable talking with people of any income bracket.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Bill

      Extremely well said! The only think I'd like to add is that these standardized test aren't designed to actually educate children – they're designed to measure results. Measuring their results is important. It's not as if they're banning schools from teaching about dinosaurs, they're suggesting that it not be included in standardized tests. Big difference.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • Amy

      Thank you Bill, nice that one person gets it. It's not that certain words make the problem impossible to solve, it's that certain words detract from the focus of the problem more than others. Also, someone might have a low vocabulary but high math ability. If the purpose of the particular section is to measure math, you want to make sure the words are simple and not distracting. It's not that vocabulary isn't important, or that they should learn hard words, but that hard words, words that cause anxiety, words that are more distracting to some students than others are counter-productive to assessing a child's MATH skills.

      I'm not saying I understand exactly why "dinosaur" is on the list, but I understand the concept of what they are doing. Perhaps a kid feels conflicted by differences between parent's teachings and school's teachings on the subject of dinosaurs, therefore "dinosaur" raises the anxiety of certain students and interferes with their ability to do the math problems.

      But it's not because of concern about it being "offensive." Which is my complaint with the article. Modern journalism doesn't grade quality based on amount of research put into an article, but on how many hits it gets. Therefore making an effort to understand and explain doesn't mean anything anymore. If you can put little effort into a human-interest piece about "banning" "offensive" words and stir up controversy you get lots of hits and probably get paid better–never mind that it's poor journalism.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  6. Gospa

    This is totally nonsensical ! What they are really getting at is wanting to cause total ignorance in the upcoming children so that whey they grow into adults it will be easier to control their thinking process. Somewhat like dictatorship governments around the world.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Patriarchae

    Why should schools fear offending creationists? They should be offended and ridiculed and forced to see how utterly illogical and out of tune with modern science their views are. Schools have no time to waste with the baggage that creationists bring.

    I have no respect for anyone who, in the 21st century, still believes that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, that there was a giant flood that covered the earth, and that the earth is 6,000 years old. Might as well believe that the earth is flat while you're at it.

    March 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Dan

      +1

      March 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  8. Leon

    OK, Now it's me that's going to pop up on a soapbox and toss my 2 cents in, feel free to spend it if you like. So we are to banish words from our schools. Not the "7 dirty words" of George Carlin, no. We are to banish "birthday" or "dinosaur" and so many others out of fear of offending someone, anyone, ever. I have 2 words for those people that think of taking words away from any child being taught in the USA. I'll leave it to your imagination what they are. The moment you sensor something you loose something. You loose the ability to think about some aspect of the human experience in all it's glory, and yes, all it's horrors. And so you too you learn fear. The world is filled with things that are not "fair" or "right" to someone. It is our job, our "sacred" duty to share the scope and breadth of mankind as it is. It is the individual mind we are teaching to do with as they please as they find their path through life. Those that would take words from us, take concepts from us and narrow our understanding of ourselves, others and the world we live in together. Oh, and those two words I spoke of? STOP THIS!

    March 29, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Leon

      And BTW, I find it both amusing and sad that people interject religious shock, dismay or anger over the use of words or "theories" that conflict with their doctrine. It's a public school and if you don't want your kids there put them in a school that you like. Funny how we teach tolerance on one hand and band words or theories some may not like with the other. So much for tolerance.

      March 29, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things. .

    March 29, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • aj

      Is sure isn't making america any smarter. We have the worst education in the civilized world.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • Mike

      Prayer changes nothing except the pray-er,for the worse, a complete waste of time, but you wont understand that so....pray on it why donchya...

      March 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  10. Susan

    Part of education is to expand the mind – if a kid didn't eat pepperoni at home, it might spur him to ask his teacher about it or look it up on the internet. If we only educate children with what they are already familiar and comfortable with, how will they ever learn about something new?

    March 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • claire

      yeah exactly! lerarning about other cultures is an important part of education >.>

      March 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  11. jane

    Dinosaurs?! Are you freaking kidding me?!?! So no more trips to the natural history museum then either huh? My god department of education you need to relax and think about what's actually important. US students only have 32 percent proficiency rate in math and a 31 percent proficiency rate in reading and what the department of education id worries about is words like dinosaurs and birthday on test.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Maybe we are coming to the point of schools just teaching the ABCs and 123s. The dinosaurs thing though is funny though. Creationism I do not feel would have a issue but I guess there are those that do.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • j

      the creationists get mad with a word like dinosaurs

      March 29, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  12. Anon

    Welcome to 'MERICA the land of the Jesusfreaks.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  13. Stephen

    ...This is pathetic

    March 29, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  14. Peter

    I 100% agree.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  15. david

    fahrenheit 451. it's happening. trying to appease everyone will only lead to ignorance, idiocy and illiteracy.

    March 29, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Peter

      I agree

      March 29, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  16. NoMore

    My parents taught me great lessons as I was growing up and there were several phrases they used; sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me and life is not fair. It's very sad our younger generation is being taught words do hurt and life is fair. What a rude awakening they're in for as they get older. Why bother with education if we don't want our children to think for themselves.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  17. just wondering

    Education? Well almost.... what a joke...

    March 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  18. Darwin Millet 3

    This is ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • originalnancy412

      The only word that comes to mind for this story is crappola

      March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  19. t-bird

    He tells you what to say, he tells you what to feel, he tells you what to think...Big Brother is alive & well! I think instead of just shielding children from all (real & invented) forms of "unpleasantness", "educators" really miss an opportunity to engage them in the real world where there are lots of different people with lots of different beliefs & ideas. Why not address these "bad words" directly with the kids, engage them in discussion (I don't think these words are as traumatizing as the "authorities" think) & give them the tools they need to deal with those who are different from them. I can foresee a generation growing up & learning the same kinds of prejudice our great-grandfathers had all over again, due to a lack of exposure to the ideas of others & the sterilized existence the current "educational" authorities are now trying to push. This is "PC" gone too far!

    March 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  20. F. This Planet

    Worst thing to ever happen to the human race: Religion

    March 29, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Anon

      Especially the three Abrahamic desert blood cults.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
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