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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. Kevin

    what a disgrace. I want "Newton" to be banned as well.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  2. Leefromthenoke

    Is this the first step toward book burning or what? Where in the heck is America, and what did you do with it?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
  3. Bad education

    WOW, when I was in middle school (in the midwest) etchers called us things like dummy, meathead, retarded, just to name a few. Now New York want to ban simple words in standardizing test. You people must be the by-product of 60's-70's mid-western education!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Bad education

      See I can't even spell teachers right. Thanks Mr. Kozlowski, ya stupid meathead

      March 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  4. rob

    I want the word ROUND to be banned as well....

    – A member of the flat earth society.

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

    I think they should ban the word 'balls'. So many connotations. Can't NY Schools just teach WITHOUT using words at all?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Bob B

      Love your comment.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  6. bob

    People should watch Zeitgeist. If you have questions about religion, the economy, and the education system it might have some answers for you. I thought it did.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  7. GK

    Will they ban the words idiots, morons, dimwits, clueless, ludicrous, ridiculous so that people won't be reminded of them and their unfathomable stupidity? My God! How completely insane and senseless can people get?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  8. chuchingirl

    this is extremely ridiculous!!!! if we want to educate, we need to educate about diverse things.....the world is out there and we decide what we want to do in it but first we need to learn about what's in it......if we were to base the banning of words based on emotions then we should ban the word WAR as many kids have been affected by it......and also the word DEATH, since when someone we love dies, everyone gets sad, no matter their religion or ethnicity......therefore, no history class; it's banned due to all the death and war!......what are these people thinking????

    March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  9. Colin

    In reality, it took about 4 billion years of Earth history for human beings to evolve. The process is well understood. Starting with a "simple" organism (and I say "simple" because even the simplest of organisms are complex, but I’ll come back to that) all of the offspring of that organism will all be slightly different to their parent, and to each other. No boy is identical in EVERY respect to his father.

    Those organisms with the traits that best suit it to survive are more likely to pass on their genes (and that advantageous trait) to their own offspring. A slightly faster lion, taller giraffe or better sighted hawk is more likely than its slower, shorter or more myopic brethren to live long enough to breed and pass on the favorable genes that gave it the edge. No rocket science there.

    So far, easy, but here is the key and the thing creationists don't seem able (or, perhaps, willing) to grasp. The way in which any child will differ from its parents will generally be small (such as eye color, height etc.) but, given enough time and enough generations, and provided some external element is selectively favoring specific traits, such as acute eyesight, the differences will add up. Over thousands of generations, so much cu.mulative change builds up that the great-great-great etc. grandson will be so different from its great-great-great etc. grandfather as to amount to a new species.

    If, for example, a dog breeder only ever allows the fastest male dogs to breed with the fastest female dogs, after many years of such selective breeding the resultant dogs will differ so much in body shape, leg length and, perhaps, lung capacity from their ancestor as to be considered a separate breed. No one set of offspring will differ greatly from its parents, but it will differ a little more from its grandparents, and even a little more from its great-grandparents etc., until we go all the way back to the original dog, which will be quite different in appearance.

    We see this around us everywhere. Ever heard of greyhounds, the most obvious example of breeding for speed? Very different to bulldogs, aren’t they. All breeds of dog alive today descended from wolves. In fact, it is likely that they all descended, ultimately, from a small pack of wolves that were domesticated in either the Middle East or Manchuria some 10,000 years ago. In any event, every last one of them, from the Teacup Chihuahua in Paris Hilton’s purse to the Great Danes of European car advertisements, are the cu.mulative result of selective breeding down different paths from the original wolf.

    Now, what are the chances of two wolves giving birth to a Chihuahua or Dalmatian? Virtually zero, but this ignores (like your 747 example does) all of the intermediate steps – the generations – the tint steps – required to get from a wolf to a Chihuahua. It took 10,000 years, about 5,000 generations – 5,000 baby steps. I could not jump from New York to San Francisco, but I could certainly walk there in little steps.

    Evolution is, in fact, a work in process, as dog breeders all over the world, along with horse breeders, wheat farmers, rose growers, cattle farmers and all other professions that depend on the traits of plants or animals to make their living, selectively breed for desired traits. Why do you think horse breeders pay thousands of dollars for the fastest stud horses to breed with their mares?

    Even the most cursory of research into any branch of horticulture or animal husbandry quickly reveals that the size, variety, health, longevity and resistance to disease of most of our domesticated plants and animals were the thing of dreams as recently as 100 years ago. Indeed, biotech companies like Monsanto would quickly fall behind the competi.tion if they did not spend millions each year on Darwinian selective breeding programs.

    You really think that people in the 1500s ate fruit and vegetables of the size, nutritional value and taste we do today? Hell, there are hundreds of types of apple today. They did not exist a few centuries ago. Why do diseases “build up” a resistance to antibiotics. Individual bacteria don’t, but antibiotics sometimes only kill 99% of the bacteria, leaving a few individuals to breed and pass on the trait that allowed them to survive the antibiotic to their offspring. Gradually, these survivors and their descendents will outnumber the original, weaker disease. A new, more resistant strain of the disease has just evolved. Or did your all loving god create the new, virulent strain in an effort to kill people?

    Now, to go back to the point I left open at the start of this post, what evolution does not explain (nor attempt to) is how the first complex living things arose. However, the more we understand biological processes, the more we are seeing that there is a natural tendency for non-living organic compounds to clump together into increasingly complex forms. Experiments show this all the time. While explaining this process would take a while in an already long post, suffice it to say that no step in the process of gradually increasing complexity of organic molecules into simple life seems to be too complex to have happened without divine intervention. It just took a long, long time – hundreds of millions of years, and a big, big "Petri dish" – the entire Earth-before it occurred, perhaps even more than once.

    Finally, even if we were to assume that [the Christian] god created the first living cell, where does that get us? We immediately bump into the question of what created that god? God was always there, right? But this is the same as saying he "just happened" and God is even less likely than a 747 or a simple cell is to have "just happened." In fact, why is “God” considered an explanation for anything. It isn’t. It’s a cop out, a shrug of the shoulders. When a person attributes something to God, it usually means they haven’t got a clue, so they invoke a magic act by some unreachable, unknowable sky-fairy. All we have done is put a halo on a question mark and walked away from the challenge.

    Frankly, would any believer, absent having been taught it from when they were too young to question it, possibly conclude the existence of a creator-god as a thinking adult, based on what we know in science today? Much less the one that is straight out of late Iron Age Palestinian mythology.

    PS: The sky-fairy analogy is not original. It is cited in Dawkins as being from an unnamed blogger.

    PPS: I did not distinguish between “breeds” and “species” but that is simply a matter of degree of exactly the same process. Accepting one but not the other is like accepting the existence of inches but denying the existence of miles.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Sandy Cluz

      Ah.... You evolutionists are so narrow minded and stupid. And lazy, to name a few. Why go to church when you can praise ape man right at home?

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

      Where did the simple organism at the beginning of your story come from? Until we can prove how matter originated, all arguments are still on the table.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  10. What The?

    Please ban the word Test." It's a universal cause of anxiety.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
  11. Ben

    They should add the following words to the list: Smart, Thoughtful, Knowledge, Understanding. We wouldn't want to make dumb people uncomfortable.

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

      ..Sounds like someone I know..

      March 30, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  12. Louise

    Creationists are idiots, plain and simple. I'm an atheist and I believe in dinosaurs and know that humans and dinosaurs did NOT walk the earth together. They got that idiotic idea from watching too many Flintstones re-runs. There is no evidence to support that whatsoever.

    So banning dinosaur is okay? And I love Halloween. But why on earth ban television? Is there something in the context of the word that sounds upsetting to a child?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      Belief in dinosaurs is immaterial.... since the mere existence of fossil records is incontrovertible proof they existed. 😉

      March 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
    • Sandy Cluz

      I find the root of many evolutionists problems to be at home. Did you not get enough attenton a a hild, and then start praising Darwin and Ape man?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Taxpayer

      >> So banning dinosaur is okay?

      No, they would probably ban more than one.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  13. THETERP

    I think when teachers are to dumb to teach they promote them to the BOE, then supply them with mind altering drugs. OH did I say a forbidden word.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  14. Dumb and dumber

    This has got to be the dumest idea in our education system. Must we take all the dinosuars out of museums. These people must have I.Q's lease then worms (sorry worm if I hurt your feelings). The are only two words to delete, Republican and Democrat and maybe George Carlins seven words until they get into high school. What is this country coming too.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Louise

      Your screen name is actually true...

      But I digress. You can spell your screen name properly yet can't spell dumb in the post... that baffles me. And misspelling less... unless you mean to take a lease out on an IQ.

      Heck, maybe we should ban the word genius so we don't offend people like you.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  15. Taxpayer

    Wonder how much hard earned tax money was used to pay the brilliant minds at the NYC Dept of Education to meet and think up asinine ideas like this? It's repugnant to think that a group of adults sat in a room for hours and hours on end – at the taxpayers' expense – and came to these conclusions.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
  16. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Let's be especially careful not to offend any panty-waist Muslims! Allah forbid!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  17. CHUCKCOBRA

    So somewhere, someone was paid to make this list of words that would be distracting to someone on test? ONLY IN AMERICA.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Aces Full Mike

      The Progressive Indoctrination machine rolls on...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:22 pm |
    • Anon

      More like 'MERICA it seems.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • docdoug

      At least Kansas won't feel so alone! Why do we keep going backwards? Imagine reverse-SETI....what will THEY think of this?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  18. JR

    I could be pithy here, but I won't bother. Banning these words is just plain stupid. It's also terrifying to know that these are the people that are teaching our children. Want to make them not loaded? Stop walking around acting like they're loaded.

    IQs like speed bumps.

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

      They should just have a committee to review them for potential sensitivity issues.

      They also have to eliminate the word "buys" for people like my dad who had to steal food and clothes to live. And mother and father for abused kids. And camp for kids abused by Sandusky.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  19. ArtInChicago

    Who would request an RFP for this type of nonsense?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  20. Dave

    So now NYC city schools wants to deny the existence of dinosaurs? What's next, the sun and moon?

    It's fair to debate where things might have come from, but not to deny they exist(ed). Silly.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
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