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

    Birthday, television, dinosaurs, how are any of these words controversial to anybody who's sane? Why are we bowing down to people who are tearing this country apart and who deserves to be ridiculed?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  2. Jan Strnad

    Wow. Sometime while I was sleeping, I fell out of reality and into a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. novel.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  3. Lauren

    This is ridiculous. Creationists need to wake up....THERE ARE DINOSAUR BONES IN MUSEUMS!!! THEY EXISTED!!! GET OVER IT!!! lol

    March 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Sunnylovetts

      CREATIONISTS BELIEVE IN DINOSAURS! Goodness... i'm tired of saying that.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  4. Justus

    Also, I don't criticize CNN for reporting this "dreck," as it was referred to elsewhere. I actually thank it for somewhat enlightening a very in-the-dark public about some of the more unfortunate goings-on of the American education system. There are several.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  5. Tom

    When will the NY educrats be releasing their new Dictionary of Newspeak? Sounds like someone needs to pull the lever and flush these educrats right down the toilet so that they will be finally be in an environment of equals.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  6. Frank Rizzo

    They can band what they want , I wil not honor it , and they can go F themsleves

    March 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  7. Ivan

    The weak really have inherited the gym

    March 29, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
  8. JB

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. Ever.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  9. Paul

    Is "Department of Education" an oxymoron in NYC?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
    • IH

      Unfortunate but sadly true it seems... Instead of focusing on the real skills our children need to stay competative such as math and science the department wastes taxpayer dollars on debating trivia. If this is truely a debate, then I want meatballs and hamburgers removed from material my children will read. I'm vegitarian and references to meat offends me. 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • IH

      Whoops! Please pardon mistakes in spelling. Worked overtime today...need to go to bed...

      March 29, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
  10. Tmoney

    I'm a teacher and I see this all too often. "Education" administrators losing touch with reality. It's sad. It happens all the time. It could happen to you!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  11. TheFipstr

    I get offended at people being offended.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  12. GAW

    In the words of that great philosopher Charlie Brown "Good Grief"

    March 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  13. Daniel Delgado

    I am going to have to say firts that I did not know some states had a list of "loaded words"banned from books. Now I can say that it is the stupidest thing I have ever seen.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  14. Steve

    Wow. More Orwellian madness. Never thought I would see the day when the government tries to remove "Dinosaur" from the language.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  15. Pavel

    Dear God,
    If You indeed created this world 6,000 years ago and made humans in Your image, how come you made so many of them such incredible morons?

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  16. Vandervecken

    And so it begins. "Newspeak". Well, we were warned!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  17. Justus

    This is appalling. We're shielding words from schoolchildren that would only offend the most extreme and sensitive fraction of any one of the groups they're trying to please. If schoolchildren are babied like this through high school, I can only feel sorry not only for them, but for the continuation of common sense in this country.

    I'm no right-winger by any means, and I'm no left-winger either, but this crap is a prime example of government when it is inhibiting more than it is enabling. Unless, of course, you consider it enabling future American citizens to be dumber and naive than ever before, then yes, it is enabling.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
  18. Andrew

    Take your misapplied, unchristlike bullsh@# elsewhere, Puritans.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  19. Fat Albert

    Round up everyone responsible for the creation of this list and dip them into boiling oil in the middle of Times Square. **** like this makes my head want to explode.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  20. Craig

    "Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

    Screw fundamentalists. Dinosaurs actually existed. I'm sick and tired of people being offended by facts. Go talk to your imaginary friend Jesus if your offended. Maybe he can help you out.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Joe

      Craig, read the article a little closer. Christians or fundamentalists as they are called in this article believe in dinosaurs, so before you start to call people names and mock them it would be good for you to know what they believe.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • LOL

      To be fair, the next line down did read: "But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those [same] "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, [do] believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs."

      I think that's the whole point of this article. I don't know anyone, religious or not, who could rightfully argue facts. Please don't lump all "fundamentalists" into one crazy looney bin. I believe in Jesus but I also believe in Dinosaurs too. lol 🙂

      March 29, 2012 at 11:32 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.