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. Mike in SA

    They also need to ban dumb, stupid, and ignorant as these would all give people a bad idea about teh NY Board of Education.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  2. Observer

    I haven't read every post, but I haven't seen one yet that is supportive of what the NYC Dept. of Ed. is doing.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  3. Steve

    Why be so worried about some small minority of the population that might be "offended" by some word like Birthday because they don't celebrate birthdays?? I might be offended if Birthdays ARE NOT mentioned because I DO celebrate Birthdays. What about ME????

    March 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
  4. wobbles

    Ahh the thought police are in full effect. George Orwell knew what he was talking about. And we find now as in his own day when the iron curtain was new that the people most concerned with controlling every aspect of life and thought come from the left. Socialism and the liberal socialist ideal make fascists of the early 20th century look like amateurs. Those guys could only kill you, these guys keep you alive to enslave you.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Teacher

      George Orwell was a socialist. He'd be disturbed by the use of the word "socialism" in American political rhetoric, largely fueled by Fox News.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  5. FedUp

    want to "shield kids from these types of encounters." That's the problem. These "encounters" are reality.They need ot be exposed to them. Kids are going to hear these words all their lives. Why not teach them about said words instead of banning them. This is going entirely too far. Keep lying to the poor kids. The schools lie to them with this phony self-esteem garbage they foist on them as well. Also, I sincerely doubt these would offend masses of people. If people do get offended by these words, then maybe there are other issues that need to be addressed. I think this is horrible.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  6. Learn

    Are the powers that be trying to make are youth dumber or something. I'm an atheist and would hope that it would be expected of me to know common customs such as "religion". Could you imagine someone asking another person, "What is your religion?" and the other person stood there completely perplexed at a word that they knew nothing about. Next thing you know they're "avoid" the word 'dirt' because it may make you think of digging which will lead to thoughts of excavating, thus leading to the demise in belief in a god because Oh my Unicorn! we found a fossil. Oops, is "fossil" allowed? You people are morons. (Those making these word-exclusion lists.)

    March 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Learn

      our... Reading this article made me dumber.... Thanks word tsar.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
  7. prairieghost

    Yeah, to heck with actually learning anything... we don't want to OFFEND anybody. 😛

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  8. donklos

    Do these people actually get a pay check to come up with this stuff?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
  9. mickey1313

    One more piece of proof that thiests are stupid

    March 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Dale

      Nothing to do with Thiesm. Just more Lib garbage in disguise. Nice try, though.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
  10. Ron Dailey

    This really a great idea, but I'd like to take it to the next level. We should all paint our skin gray, shave our heads, and eat noodle salads in the park while frollicking naked to the delightful sounds of Donny and Marie Osmond.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • ericgoestoholland


      March 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  11. carpebootium

    Are you freaking kidding me? This don't take the chance of offending anybody has got to stop. Apparently we should just muzzle everyone and give them sticks and stones because they're safer.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  12. mark432

    America sucks. When I was 10 my favorite thing was to study dinosaurs. I couldn't get enough! My least favorite thing was going to church on Sunday. This is about people that want to rip the good from small minds and replace it with fairytales about men that walk on water and die for sins. Boo! Oh sorry is that a Halloween reference?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • mickey1313

      this is what happens when people bend over for the ignorant masses that believe in god. All thiests are a waste of air.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • bannister

      Great post – When I was a kid, I loved dinosaurs too! And I hated church!

      However, it is a mistake to blame Christians or even fundamentalists for this because THEY ARE NOT THE ONES CALLING FOR A BAN! I lay the blame at the feet of political correctness whose overriding goal seems to be " don't offend ANYONE!"

      March 29, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Teacher

      "I lay the blame at the feet of political correctness whose overriding goal seems to be " don't offend ANYONE!"" ... Correct, bannister. Educators must stop fearing the wrath of fundamentalist Christian parents by teaching the facts, e.g. evolution.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • bannister

      Teacher – spare us the hysterical nonsense. Please name ONE New York School in which a Christian parent has complained about dinosaurs. I thought so.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
  13. DEEJ

    They should add to the list: school, teasher, principal, superintendent, school board, and department of education.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  14. Jmart

    It's not a book, movie, or radio show. IT'S A TEST! Usually taken over the course of ONE day. The students will usually see the test only ONCE. Censorship my a**. What's the big frickin' deal.

    Also, there's probably many more 'loaded' words that can set a student off by triggering an unpleasant memory that are not even included in this list.

    Not that I'm in favor of standardized tests being used on an exit-level basis. But the tests need to not include anything that could skew the results or create any biases. It's called logic. It makes sense. You can't have a standardized test any other way.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  15. Julia

    "Education" does not mean "to go out". The Latin root means "draw out".

    If you want to be a pompous prat, check your facts first.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  16. JC in Western U.S.

    I'm a science teacher. Give me a flippin' break. Would somebody please tell me how to teach about the Jurassic period without saying "dinosaur"?

    Or how do my colleagues teach about world cultures (6th grade social studies) without using the word religion?

    Can I still say "protein" when describing what DNA codes for, or would that offend PETA?

    Oh My Word. And then teachers wonder why anyone thinks we're all kookoo. Oh wait, I can't say that.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • Dan

      Pretty sure they just took those words out of the standardized tests, not the classroom.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  17. Dean

    This is incredibly stupid. Why don't we just enforce Newspeak from 1984's Ingsoc and reduce everything to, good, plus good, double plus good.
    Such seemingly "small" steps lead to the destruction of the language, and intelligence.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  18. luke

    Dinosaurs and Halloween are 'loaded' words?? – Really?? – is this an Onion article?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  19. T Rex

    Creationists not only believe that people and dinosaurs lived alongside each other, they also believe that Noah included two of each of them on the ark. If you read Genesis, it tells you that the ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 40 feet high. Assuming that the hippos, elephants, rhinos, and all the other animals must have taken up much of the available real estate, where did Noah find room for dinosaurs? The creationist's answer: he took baby dinosaurs. Noah, his family and the animals and dinosaurs were not on the ark for a mere 40 days while it rained. God had to make sure that every evil living thing was dead, so He made sure the water was high enough to reach at least 20 feet above the highest mountain peak (that would mean the surface of the flood was approximately 29, 050 feet, or 5.5 miles, above normal sea level). Needles to say, it took a while for the waters to recede enough for everyone to safely leave the ark – over ten months, according to Noah's account. In that time, some of those baby dinos may have grown a tad.
    I can't believe anyone is concerned about offending people who believe this stuff.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  20. The Flamingo Kid

    LOL!!! This is soooo ridiculous. Someone has way too much time on their hands!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
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