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. Sinmeta

    This is ridiculous. Dinosaurs are a scientific fact. Now the schools want to avoid teaching science?? If some kid is going to be offended or scared by mention of the word dinosaur, then he/she'd better learn sooner rather than later to get a much thicker skin, or words and ideas much less benign will tear them apart later on in life.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Oh dear, not again

      Judging by reading skills shown in the responses, education was a waste on most people here anyway.

      The article does not say they cannot teach those subject – they can. The article does not say that teachers cannot put all those words on tests – they can. The article only says they are not going to have those words on standardized tests, which are a very small part of the curriculum.

      No doubt it is stupid, but it is also insignificant and irrelevant to education.

      Easily 50% of the responses show the responder did not have the reading comprehension skills to understand what is actually being said.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  2. cpc65

    Hey, let's keep EVERYBODY happy by keeping everyone stupid.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  3. Sunshine

    If you oppose this, let the idiot who's idea this was know it's a bad one.Send him a message on this site.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
  4. Colin

    A friend of mine (who was actually valedictorian of our high school) went into the field of paleontology. He works at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where they are doing research on the earliest Aboriginal settlements in Australia and the development of the many languages spoken by the Aboriginals in Australia.

    Their latest theories suggest that man made it to Australia at least 60,000 years ago, during the penultimate Ice Age and that their languages diversified as they spread throughout the continent.

    Fortunately, I have a friend in the New York City Education Department, who has informed me that this can’t be right, as the World is only one tenth as old (about 6,000) years and that all Australian Aboriginal languages were made by god in the Tower of Babel. Further, the Ice Ages did not even happen.

    It makes me wonder where Australian Aboriginals come from if they were not on Noah’s ark and evolution is a lie, but I’m sure I’ll find the answers in the Bible.

    Thanks New York City educators – it’s incredible how much smarter you are than the most gifted archeologists and paleontologists in the World!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • DanW

      Colin, your problem is that you don't understand the full capabilities of God. He can create anything anywhere and make it look as old as he wants it to be. He can create it with just the right amount of carbon-14 to test our faith. Actually, since He seems to be planting all of these misleading clues on earth and in the universe, He very well might have created everything 17 minutes ago and created our memories to make the recent past appear consistent while creating other stuff with the apparent age of billions of years. There is truly no limit to what God can do, and there really isn't much of an argument to that.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Colin

      That's odd Dan, his miracles seem to be very limited indeed.

      Until the mid nineties, those with AIDS who prayed for a miracle were never granted one. Medical science finds a way to permanently suppress the disease, and all of a sudden the gods start to perform miracles with AIDS patients. No polio patient ever received a miracle until the Salk vaccine and cancer patients were ignored until chemotherapy and radiation treatment were developed. Suddenly, remission of cancer is regularly declared a miracle.

      God still seems deaf to the pleadings of amputees who would like their fingers, arms or legs back, to those who have physically lost eyes or ears, to the horribly burned and to all others who ail from patently visible and currently incurable maladies. However, he is very receptive to helping those whose condition is uncertain, internal and vulnerable to miraculous claims.

      If one made two lists, one of those ailments the various gods will miraculously cure and the other of those they will not, I’d bet you London to a brick that it would coincide exactly with those unambiguous conditions medical science (or the human body itself) can defeat and those we cannot.

      Why do you think that is, Dan?

      March 28, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Marine5484

    So fundamentalist try to say that dinosaurs are actually what were dragons there we read about as kids......This whole PC thing has gotten way way out of hand.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  6. Offended

    I am thoroughly offended by the subject of this article...oops can I say thoroughly on here?????

    March 28, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  7. Colin

    I have a third friend who works for the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. He was telling me how a new strain of bird flu has evolved with a resistance to the strongest antibodies we can throw at it. The best immunologists in the World believe it evolved in parts of India or China where the regular contact between chickens and humans allows easy vectoring to humans.

    Luckily, I have a friend in the New York City Education Department who has corrected me. Evolution is a lie. All life was created in its current form about 6,000 years ago by a Bronze Age sky god they called “Yahweh,” who we now call “God”.

    So, the Center for disease Control will immediately stop researching the evolution of disease and close down, so their researchers can go home and read their Bibles to find a cure for bird flu there.

    Thanks New York City educators, now we know where to look to find the cure for diseases!!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  8. scientificpoetry

    Someone needs to remind the NYC department of education that ignorance is not a virtue.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  9. Did Dinosaurs Celebrate Xmas?


    March 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Sunshine

      They must have, since 'Christmas' isn't on the list. It's a 'safe' word.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • Yabba Dabba Don't

      Christmas IS on the list. But Christmas is a weird mix of religio-political anger and consumer hyper-capitalism, and a whole lotta shitty manipulative music in stores. A celebration of delusion and greed.

      The FSMers have it right – call it "Holiday" and forget all the bogus associations.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  10. DanW

    Math makes me sad because I don't understand it. Please stop teaching it. And I dont rite to gud so enlish class makes me sad to.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  11. Colin

    I have another friend who works for NASA. He was telling me how the latest photographs from the Hubble space telescope are revealing galaxies in the early stages of formation, from about 13 billion years ago. The discoveries are advancing science at an incredible rate and helping us develop very sophisticated theories of galactic formation.

    Fortunately, I have a friend from the New York city Education Department who informed me that the entire Universe was created only 6,000 years ago by [the Christian] god in seven days. This "talking snake" thoery of galactic formation is quite interesting. I will have to check it out.

    Thanks New york City Education Department, if it wasn’t for you, I would believe people like Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkins. Now, I just read my Bible.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • Steve

      Colin, you have posted enough times that it is extremely obvious you have some very deep rooted psycological problems. Think long and hard about the fact that when you die, 100 years later, you are still a nobody to everybody.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • beeswax

      Colin, for your information Isaac Newton loved the bible and believed it to be the infallible word of his creator. Dating methods are seriously flawed. There is much evidence out there that points to a young earth. There are many respected scientists who believe this. intelligent design is a sound conclusion that some scientists come to after looking at the evidence. Consider two scientist walking along a beach who happen upon a pocket watch. After opening it and examining its inner workings that show it to be a very finely engineered piece of machinery, both agree that it must have a designer. As they continue walking along the beach they happen upon a star fish that washed up on shore the night before. After bringing it back to the lab for analysis they both conclude that the complexity of this star fish is staggering! Compared to the watch, the starfish appears to be light years ahead in technology, far beyond what man is capable of producing. One of the scientists says to himself, "ah, residue from a big bang that happened billions of years ago." The other scientist says to himself, "something this complex must of had a designer." Colin, If you are interested and are able to approach it with an open mind, there are many good sources of information out there. Here is a website that has many videos on the subject and are hosted by scientists who are leading researchers in their fields and some who teach at universities. http://www.NiceneCouncil.com

      March 29, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  12. JCry

    Dinosaurs....HIGHLY controversial.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  13. mikeE

    In the war on reality, the 1st victims are words. Music is sad for the deaf. Paintings are bad for the blind. Happiness is disturbing to the depressed. Babies are upsetting to the sterile. Why even go to school? Stay home and be brainwashed by your delusional cloistered parents and never be touched by the reality of the rest of the world. Never learn about pain, fear, adversity, the joy of other people's lives. Busybodies destroy the mind.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  14. Colin

    I have a friend who is on an archeological dig in Croatia. He emailed me about how they had found the remains of one of the earliest hominoids outside of Africa, dating to a couple of hundred thousand years ago. There is an entire research team there from Oxford University’s paleontology department, the most respected in the World.

    Fortunately, I have a friend from the New York Education Department who informed me that the entire World began only 6,000 years ago with man already totally evolved (and with a talking snake). So, I am going to write to the team and tell them to all fold up their tents and go home and read their Bibles. The answers to the natural history of the human species are all in there.

    Thanks New York Education Department, you have made me really smart!

    March 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  15. Chris

    What came to mind was xkcd .com/135

    March 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  16. BD


    just.... wow

    March 28, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
    • Amish & ANDY

      you are right . . . this a wow, just wow article

      March 28, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  17. Colin

    I have a question that should be on the test. Who is most likely to think the world began 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake:

    (a) illiterate tribesmen from Yemen who have never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education

    (b) Homeless people who have never read a science book

    (c) About 65% of Christians; or

    (d) All of the above?

    March 28, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • think for yourself

      Colin, you are asking the sheeple to think. They do not need to, as their 2000 year old book has all the answers. But I still don't see them stoning their children, so that's a start I guess.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Frank

    lmao - how is a scientific discovery that has been extensively researched (dinosaurs) be a loaded word? Seriously, validity of words should be evaluated before they're removed due to the hurt feelings of a terribly misguided group of humans.

    Religion is the greatest plague of our time.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • BD

      They made all those bones out of mud!

      March 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • No Expert


      March 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  19. Bill

    Utterly ridiculous. NYC Educators have become politically correct to the point they are destroying common culture and avoiding topics on which they should be educating. Just non-sense. I would hope that publishers would simply not respond to the request for proposals, but of course they are chasing the almighty dollar and will. Somewhere along the line common sense died and nobody noticed. This world is looking more and more nuts to me every day.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
  20. Doc

    OMG. We are the most spineless culture on the planet. We are afraid of words like dinosaur and divorce because they *might* offend someone. This has to be a joke. Is it April 1st? Are our kids so weak that seeing the word "hurricane" on a test is going to cause them to go into a spiraling depression the likes of which will end their aspirations for all time? I mean, REALLY people. Maybe we deserve to be overrun by the Chinese. They laugh at our ridiculousness more every day as they patiently wait for the complete collapse of our ability to function. Then they'll swoop in and take over. We make it easy.

    March 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Mike

      I am offended by the following words. Please remove them from everything immediately or I will be upset:
      – Rush
      – rush (reminds me of Rush)
      – apple
      – the
      – of
      -integral calculus

      that's it for now but t'm sure there will be more.

      March 28, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
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