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. apooramerican

    Ban the book before its written. That way nobody can complain about book burning.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  2. Rob

    Liberals truly are mentally ill aren't they? They are a danger to American society.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  3. briffault

    Did they COMPLETELY run out of things to do? I mean they might want to ban words like "freedom" and "belief".

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  4. ReligionIs4Dolts

    "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

    So could "lemur" or "fish" or "geology" or "paleontology" or "history" or "fact" or "truth" or "DNA" or "science" or ....

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • briffault

      Caveman too....

      March 29, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Hassan

      1. 1,6322. Staples, paper clips and lined paper3. Granny Smith, Hazard, Chocolate Cream and French Vanilla4. Wrap a few rubber bands aorund your party hat until the adhesive dires to ensure a strong hold.5. 76. 0418097. April 11, 20118. Amy Nemeth and Kristen K. Tierney9. 8-1/8 10. ConfuciusThanks for a great issue with fun ideas!

      July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  5. Jack B.

    Let's form a group to decide what is offensive and what is acceptable. Then let's give the group the authority to dispose of any literature that they disagree with or may expose the public to "unsafe ideas." The group can hold public rallies where people told what to read while offensive literature is burned.

    To be clear, that was sarcasm. This is ridiculous! At what point did we stop being the United States of America and turn into 1930's Germany?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • Stony Stevenson

      Right–those brownshirts burned all those Torahs because they were afraid of offending anyone.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  6. Robert Ford

    This is ridiculous.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  7. Barbara C.

    "Cuz of Republicans?" Ha. This is liberal PC run amok.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  8. NorCalMojo

    You have to love multiculturalism.

    paint it grey, paint it all grey

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  9. jag

    maybe we should just ban all words because they may "offend" someone.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  10. wow

    once again, the word politician is the dirtiest and stupidest among all, because they are making our country worse and worse yet they think they are being brilliant

    March 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  11. Cheryl Jefferies

    This beyond absurd! It's completely stupid!

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

      1. 16322. staples, lined paper, paper clips3. Granny Smith, Hazard, Choc. Cream, French Vanilla4. Wrap a few runberbabds around your party hat until the adhesive dries to ensure a strong hold.5. 76. 0418097. April 11, 20118. Amy Nemeth & Kristen K. Tierney9. 8 1/8 10. confuciousI really, really hope I win this one!! It would make having this awful flu a little easier!!Thanks!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  12. MIlady Alaska

    How can you call it 'education' when the realities of the real world and history are banned. Remember, the Nazis burned books that contradicted their insane beliefs. How different is this??

    March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  13. zri v koren'

    BTW the news made it intointernational media, a laughting stock for the rest of the world. They forgot to ban the word "education": it might offend theignorant

    March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  14. M.

    Ooh, and what about controversial words such as "homework" or "teaching" – those certainly draw a lot of controversy, and make many kids feel uncomfortable.

    In fact, it may be best if they just ban the word "education." It's the only way to be sure!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  15. Ian J

    I consider myself to be fairly left of center of social issues, but this is just absurd. It ranks up there with the attempt to get Ebonics taught in schools as an official, legitimate language.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  16. hunter martinez

    Newspeak crimethink! You better doublethink or you will upset the forces of Amerisoc!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Martha

      1.16322.Staples, Paper Clips, and Lined Paper.3.Granny Smith, Hazard, Chocolate Cream and French Vanilla.4.Wrap a few rubber bands aurnod your party hat until the adhesive dries to ensure a strong hold.5.Six.6.041809.7.April 11, 2011.8.Amy Nemeth and Kristen k. Tierney9.8 1/8 inches.10.Confucius.

      July 29, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  17. grace

    This is all cuz of Republicans.

    By the way, we need to ban "Merry Christmas" or anything that has "Christmas" in it, it is very offensive!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • zri v koren'

      Merry Christmas is already almost banned. They also need to ban american dollars: it has "in God we trust" line on them, and this can offend the atheists

      March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • Geez

      You did read the article... right? Christmas and religion is on the list. I know they did a really good job of highlighting Dinosaur but sometimes you gotta look beyond the brightly colored photo

      March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • NorCalMojo

      That's what started this ridiculous mess. Christmas Pageants have been "Winter Concerts" for as long as my daughter has been in school. Even if you hate Jesus, you have to admit watching kids sweetly sing Silent Night is much nicer than watching them yell the words to Frosty the Snowman.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  18. ryanmcapple

    So teaching kids that you are afraid of controversy makes them learn something? Wow, great educating...

    March 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Banana


      March 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  19. geeky

    How about we get rid of the standardized tests and teach our kids things that are actually useful in life.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  20. zri v koren'

    Schools become the most gangerous environment for young minds.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:13 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.