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. Rick

    only in new york..should ban airplanes

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  2. Teri

    When I was a kid, I was bitten by a dog. I am still wary of them to this day, particularly large dogs. I demand that they remove the word "dog" as well as the name of all breeds larger than a Beagle. I was also in a house fire as a kid, please refrain from using the words "house" and "fire" as they bring back bad memories. I don't like the color orange, so please keep that in mind. I don't like squash or brussel sprouts or cheetohs. And, I really, really, really hate mirrors and my treadmill. All of these have negative connotations to me, so please refrain from making any reference to them. This includes, but is not limited to namebrands, generic names, and most terms that could remotely be associated with those terms (ie – no "yellow" as that may remind me of yellow squash, etc.)

    Where will this stupidity end?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  3. Actual Scientist

    NYC should also cease all field trips to the American Museum of Natural History. If the word "dinosaur" upsets children, seeing the 20 foot skeleton of one may make them crap their pants.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  4. Colin

    I have a good friend who works for Exxon-Mobile. He is a geologist engaged in searching for oil and other fossil fuels in Africa. They know where to look for oil based on the ages of the rocks and their location during the Carboniferous Period, which is when the vast mats of plankton and other small sea creatures were laid down, that gradually turned to oil over the tens of millions of years since.

    Fortunately, I have a friend from New York, who has told me that fossil fuels are not made of fossils at all, as the world is only six thousand years old and started with the Garden of Eden and a magic talking snake! So, I will e.mail my friend and tell him to stop looking where they usually find oil, as that has just been a lucky coincidence. God must have buried some there to fool them. I wonder why he gave most of it to the Muslims?

    What a playful, loving god we have, and isn’t the New york Department of Education smart!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Dan


      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
  5. Adam

    Orwell was right, we are simplifying or language, before we know it doublethink will be on tests

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  6. janehwitwerdxf

    Good tips. I am a 29 years old doctor, young and beautiful. Now I am see;king a gentle man who can give me the real love, so I joined BillionaireFriends*C'O'Mit's the first and best cl;ub for billion;aires to interact with others and make friends. b'ecause I am at the begin;ning of my car;eer and I would like someone's sup;port.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  7. The Dude

    Why do any of the Christ Cultist have a say in what happens in society at large?

    Their duty is to live righteously in the world that exists, not sanitize it.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  8. Cooper

    I'm a Christian, and I can't understand how other Christians could truly believe that dinosaurs never existed. I mean, we have found thousands of remains. This just makes all Christians look like extremists who don't use logic in their beliefs.

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

      If you can not see that this is just one more left wing method of dividing us then you really need to believe that Christians are that stupid. This is a dem state, ran by dems and their unions. It is a total scam to divide us even more than we are. God help us! ABO 2012

      March 29, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  9. kris

    Yeah let's let kids live in a bubble and not experience fear or hate or any discomfort. Our society needs to TOUGHEN our children up not HIDE them from life and silly words like dinosaur. Also, any word is offensive to someone. I'm short. Can we not use short now for measurement? This is the epitome of nonsense.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  10. winogradsky1

    Just when i thought creationists couldn't get any stupider

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  11. blue

    it boggles my mind that this is commonplace on tests.... I am rendered speechless which will soon be the way we live... why have we let this happen? because it is "we" who form these boards.. it is "we" who have given all of our control to these boards.. it is "we" who pay them.. it is "we" who meekly bow to their "policies and rules" for some unknown reason.. I weep for the future of these very children for they will not know freedom.. I grew up free and now I am a prisoner of "rules and policies".. but, at least i did know freedom...

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  12. Faxon

    I am glad I got my education before the lunatics started running things.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  13. Sunny

    This is way stupid.

    But don't blame the schools. Blame all the people who get their panties all in a wad every time they have to hear something they don't like – and they are on the left AND right. The school is attempting a preemptive strike against these loonies who can't let go of control long enough to let something harmless slide off their backs.

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

      Point well made.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  14. Jim Norman

    I hope they do pass this mess. It just makes it much easier for my kids to compete against what the NY public schools produce. Dumb kids.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  15. Colin

    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 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Ruff Locks

      Ooooooo me, me, ask me........

      March 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  16. MB

    Absolutely speechless. What is going on with this country? Why not just stick our children in bubbles the moment they are born and be done with it.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  17. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Going to ban the Flintstones from television, too?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
    • Ruff Locks

      If Flinstones go, the Jetsons got to go too!!!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
  18. KCC

    Education should, in it's most basic form, push people out of their comfort zone and challenge their preconceptions. Factual information is not – nor should it ever be – established by some sort of "comfort-poll". I know some people are ignorant of that, I just had no idea how high up in the educational ranks those idiots had climbed. What a tragedy for the education system.
    It's a shame George Carlin is no longer with us. I would have loved to hear his thoughts on the proposed language ban.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • MB

      argh, where's the "like" button?!?!?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Ruff Locks

      He would say, and I quote: F@&$&@@&$#€£¥£€%K

      March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  19. Michele

    On a positive, it seems we can all finally agree on something – the over the top, silly PCness of the New York City Dept of Education who seem to have forgotten the meaning of what they do.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
    • Dan

      It's ironically one of the few topics nearly everyone seems to be on the same side of

      March 29, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
  20. Peick

    I'm guessing this school system also doesn't require students to read Harrison Bergeron anymore.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
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