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. Jason

    "The Latin meaning if education is 'to go out." At least correct the typos.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  2. Marcus

    America is f***ed

    March 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  3. ML

    Perhaps if we attempt to continue to bury ourselves in ignorance, veiled in the attempts of good intentions at not wanting to offend anyone...we can continuously regress from learning to accept the reality of life.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  4. Ryan Powell

    Well, why don't we just ban all words and go back to pictograms and hyroglifics.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  5. OvernOut

    There was a newspaper story years ago about a religious organization's office that had their staff answer phones with "heaven-o" instead of "hello". There is a township near me with the local phone exchange number (not the area code) of "666". There are several churches with this exchange, most of them understand that it's only a phone number. Holy mackerel!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  6. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    The future is great. Our kids might learn that aliens can spontaneously be teleported if you juggle balls enough if an adequate amount of people lobby for it. I'm sure our nation's overall critical thinking abilities will soar!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:47 pm |
  7. Dennis

    Share the 6000 years old earth "theory"? For it to be a theory is must fit the known facts.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  8. Marcus

    This is truly (read backwards) gnikcuf amazing... It's called getting over it and realize there is more than one way to look at things. I would move from New York if they ever did this.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  9. ryan

    earth might offend someone cos it means burrying, who wants to teach their child about death in school
    fire might offend someone cos it might make thier child think about burning people in the holocaust
    water might offend people cos we might explain how drowing kills people
    wind could also be bad cos we dont children to think it actually tears through nighborhoods and kills 500 people

    lets just tell th kids everything is ok.

    wut in the hell?

    america is going to shyte

    March 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Fred

    ...but for decades bullying was fine

    When do they start worrying about things that actually matter !

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  11. Paul

    Someone should write an essay that cleverly uses every word on the list.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • B

      Thats awesome! I agree!

      March 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  12. 66Biker

    This is what happens when you put stupid people in charge of your children's education.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • B

      I know, they worry about the stupid little things like this and overlook the things that really matter.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  13. amjp

    Totally absurd. If so-called "sensitive" words aren't emphasized, they really shouldn't cause a problem.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  14. nick

    i shouldn't be stunned at the stupidity of this, but i am. this is the problem with this country. everything is about appeasing stupid special interest groups and not offending. pretty soon it's going no one will be allowed to speak at the fear of what will happen should someone get offended. one of the biggest life lessons learned is how to handle being offended. it's going to happen in life whether people want to accept it or not. the lessons might as well be taught at a young age. and let's be real, not a single one of these words will offend any of the kids in NYC, or anywhere else. this country is getting more and more stupid.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • allynom

      so agree with NIck – come on, what do you want your kids grow into – "nice robots"? Aint gonna happen!
      They'll get hit by one of these words like a brick sooner or later !!! Ha ha
      The medical insurance biz should put it in their future money maker – mental distress by words like:"........."
      I thought it was South Park like story...

      March 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • chalie16

      Nick, I totally agree. I teach "adults" and I'll never forget (as a courtesy) I did a test review before administering the test and I told the class that I would take one more question, and a student says to me, "Do you expect us to know this stuff?" I was floored...if we don't get back to raising the bar instead of constantly lowering it, the US is finished, it'll never be able to compete globally.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • B

      Agreed! I am a religious person and don't care if I offend anybody with my CHRISTmas celebration, or my love for JESUS, or my planning of my kids BIRTHDAY celebration, or the fact that DINOSAURS are awesome.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  15. AddTheseWords

    How about banning the words New York City, America, President, English. It offends people.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  16. AtheistsSeeThePinkElephant

    The future is great. Our kids might learn that aliens can spontaneously be teleported if you juggle balls enough if enough people lobby for it. I'm sure our nation's overall critical thinking abilities will soar!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
  17. mobetta

    They want to use, instead, other words like "crack ho", "homie", "hoodie", and other etc words I'm too educated to know.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
  18. lank81

    It's interesting to see how the evolution of our country has come about. The kids of today are not quite as tough as those from before. It seems that teen pregnancy, addiction, poverty, bullying, teen suicide, amongst many others are at all time highs. I'm 30, and things are quite different from 15 years ago. Teacher's can't punish, teacher's aren't able to teach properly, and now we have to watch out how we use the English language as some may get "upset". We need to educate in the home and in the classroom, not avoid issues based on emotion. Anyone could be put off by a number of words, if not all, so instead of tossing out all of these words why not try to deal with these emotional issues instead of sticking our heads in the sand like we are ostrich.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • horace

      You are 30. I'm 45. I find your generation to be too soft and kids 10 years youunger to be mush. My theory is that it all started with car seats. When I was a kid we all piled in the back of the station waggon and laughed when my dad hit potholes.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • lank81

      Horace, I'm not saying my generation is tough, lord knows its not. My Dad, now 56, just said the other day "Bullying is just a made up thing, kids need to quite being such p*****s." Although I wouldn't go that far, yes quite a bit of people are now "soft".

      March 29, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  19. bocelli1960

    This shows how incredibly dangerous bureaucrats can be. I never thought I would get to see this types of "dictator-like" ideas in the US. Ron Paul will close the Department of Education. Only solution to so much stupidity.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 pm |
    • horace

      I think Ron Paul was proposing to shut the US Department of Education, not the NY Dept of Education.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • bocelli1960

      Yes, Horace, you are right. Ron Paul will close the US Department of Education, all the better.

      March 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  20. neitzsche

    America is doing whatever it can to make sure that future generations will not stand a chance to compete against BRICS. Soon enough Americans will be standing in line to get a work visa to secure livelihood working as janitors in countries like Cambodia.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:43 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.