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. adam

    This is beyond ridiculous. I'm a liberal, and PC is supposed to be a liberal ideal. I'm all for political correctness, but this is extremism. NYC should be ashamed of itself. Education has become a complete and utter joke in this country. I never should have become an educator. You have the attacks from politicians blaming lazy teachers who only care about the paycheck, you have NCLB which in premise is good, but in actuality hurts the children, and now you have this PC that is designed not to offend that everything is removed and the words that describe this situation escape me. Grow up NY!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • 23 from texas

      I am a conservative... and I completely agree with you! Something has to be done to overhaul the school system, and I think teachers (like yourself) are the best ones to do it. Get politicians out of the schools! Get parents and teachers back in the schools; let’s actually teach our future generations!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
  2. ANYK

    this is an Obama'nation ... it's going to get much worse. Home school if you can, teach your children the truth.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  3. Dominic

    This is the most asinine thing I've ever heard.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  4. Fheal

    The words pass, fail, work, jail, responsibility, marriage, and GOD.. are sure to be on round two of the ban.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  5. dumbing down

    Nothing like dumbing down education.

    This is yet one of the many reasons our country is behind the entire world in education.

    I honestly think they dont want children learning.

    Its like George Carlin Said They dont want an educated mass of people they want "Obedient Workers"

    Just smart enough to work the machines, and just dumb enough to passively accept a system that tossed them overboard 30 years ago with crappier jobs, lower wages, and a pension that disappears as soon as you go to collect it.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  6. Joe

    While we are at it why don't we barricade our kids within the school, stay with them in school all day long, and pretend that they are never going to grow up?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  7. Pope on a Rope

    Censorship is never the answer. Especially in schools.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  8. Paul

    Ignore, censor, fear, obey. Welcome to America 2012

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  9. reality check

    This is the continuation of the dumbing down of America.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • worktolive

      Totally agree-this is the most ridiculous thing I have every heard of in all my life. Why don't we just keep our kids locked up in solitary confinement until they become of age to protect them from life. We need to get rid of the Dept. of Education.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  10. ronald malaney

    hard to do math without 9 11 seem like these numbers should also be banned by their thinking

    March 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  11. ME

    Really? Why not just save money, time and energy. Give everyone 100's on the tests. They wont be emotionally scarred, they will think all in the world is great. And when a real crisis happens, hopefully these idiots will become extinct like the dinosaurs that didn't exist......

    March 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  12. Nuevo Cicero

    I am sooooooo glad I dont live in NY anymore!!!!
    NY the land of politically correct idiots!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
  13. Only in America

    Another opportunity for the PC Gestapo. ...

    March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  14. walkers

    whatever happened to 'you can't please everyone all the time'...........by not offending anyone, they are offending their sense of intelligence. How else will others learn about other cultures if they are not exposed to it...DIVERSITY will not last if we are all dumbed down idiots

    March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  15. Darryl

    I'm surprised they didn't ban 'stupidity', 'idiotic', 'political correctness run amok'.... All of which describe the New York City Department of Education....god help us.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  16. Andres

    Ridiculous...... Society is drowning....

    March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  17. tex

    Can't use the word "cross" as in cross the road, it might offend jews. Can't use "rug," it might be evocative of prayer for Muslims. "Noodle" or "rice" - ethnic foods that are more meaningful for Asians and abhorent to Inuits. And of course "canoe" might evoke fear of tipping over and drowning. Wouldn't it be a good thing if an experience in school challenged the myths religious nut cases tell their children. Only a total fool believes the earth is only 6,000 years old.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
  18. Frank Berger

    The reporting of this kind of story always omits the most important analysis. This sort of problem (akin to deciding public school prayer policy) exists only because public schools exist. Absent public schools, parents would be free to choose to send their children to a school whose policy/curriculum is acceptable to them. Education of poor children could be subsidized via a voucher system. Of course, this kind of solution will not be acceptable to people who think they know better how to educate other people's children.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  19. John

    You Americans are, truly, insane.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • mobetta

      Guilty on all counts, judge...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Faithful

      These creatures have the cheek to call themselves "Educators" Donald Duck would do it better!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • reality check

      I have begged my spouse to more across the pond, but "not yet" is the response I receive. This is my partner's only flaw, so I stay.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  20. PC Thug

    It is clear that there are a lot of neophilic individuals here that could do with some horizon revisioning. Only when nobody in our society is less mediocre than anyone else will we truly achieve greatness.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:39 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.