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. gman

    i see a bright white light . it's slim pickens riding the NUKE BOMB DOWN TO EARTH in his cowboy hat.

    yelling ,, Ya , fcknnnn , hoooooooo !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  2. Steve Duerr

    Ban the word BAN Live free or die SHOVE OFF!!!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  3. Dale

    NY has the highest percentage of unionized workers in the country (~25%), but I'm sure there's no correlation.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  4. Biscuitss

    The people in our UNIVERSE use words that are offensive all the time, doesnt make any of those words right. So here is one possible way to stop it all and not have to challenge the improper use of any word in any language, religion or culture...When a person is born...fix their tongues so they cannot be used for conversation ...loose all the reading materials in every country and finally...get rid of the internet and any means of communication....ummmm Silence is golden....therefore no one can be upset. Welcome to the New Universe.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  5. Christmas Dinosaur

    These words have NO place in modern society.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • John

      You are kidding me right? A civilized society does not ban words.

      That is a form of mind control.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • Halloween Television

      Nice name Christmas Dinosaur hahahaha

      March 30, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  6. patw2100

    Just another example of the liberal left trying to control everything in our lives.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • Anon

      More like the neoconservative christian right.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  7. TownC

    Why don't they just burn the books that contain these words!!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • desparate CNN, very desparate

      yeah, banning words, that'll fly

      CNN will try to dig up any thing and spin it to get hits on its blog

      March 30, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  8. Anon

    Welcome to 'MERICA the land of the biblefreaks.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • John

      Rather, it is a sign of a severly retarted society; no critical thinking capacity. Imagine, in a few generations all of these arrested minds will be in positions of leadership and the world will begin its next dark age.

      I hope I'm out of here by then.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  9. Edwin

    This is really not newsworthy. Standardized tests are not designed to TEACH - they are designed to ASSESS. So what if "dinosaur" isn't on the tests? Unless the test is about paleontology, there's no real need for such a word.

    Banning the word from classrooms, or from teaching? That would be bad. Banning it from a standardized test? Who cares?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Dale

      I cares.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:26 am |
  10. Jim

    Want to get rid of a word that's both meaningless and offensive? Try "awesome." That word is used to describe everything from A to Z today. Before long, we'll have a ten-word vocabulary, just like we have a ten song playlist. This country has so entirely lost it over the past few years. I hope 2012 wipes us out...good riddance to a race of pestilence.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  11. Jason

    I guess Dinosaurs are controversial. "We all know they didn't existed and that the devil put them there to fool us." ~Justin Martyr

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  12. gman




    but they want to force people to pay for abortions and people to pay for health care who choose not to enroll.

    DON'T mention JFK in school or you'll be fired.
    DON'T talk about vietnam or you'll be fired.
    DON'T talk about christmas or you'll be fired and executed.


    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  13. samjoseph0407

    Ignorance is bliss I guess. Political correctness has gone completely out of control.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • John

      Political correctness is a catch-phrase for, "control."

      March 30, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  14. The Almighty Narshlaug

    So let me get this straight: they don't want to offend fundamentalists with "Dinosaurs" as it might invoke thoughts of evolution yet they teach evolution to ALL students whether they're offended by it or not? Yeah, that makes loads of sense.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • Edwin

      Students are required to learn about evolution - it is a required part of the curriculum. But there is no compelling reason to use words like dinosaur on the standardized tests the state uses to assess progress.

      The word is needed in the curriculum, so they keep it there. But there is no need to use it on the exams, and it bothers some people. So why not avoid using it where it serves no benefit? I'm a liberal and an educator, and I really see no problem with blocking words like dinosaur from statewide assessment tests. Unless the test is about fossils or evolution, who cares?

      March 30, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  15. Steve

    How about banning all words and just go back to communicating with a series of grunts?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • maureen

      dear steve, I think you've about summed it up correctly!

      March 30, 2012 at 12:15 am |
  16. Michael

    I am a Christian and this dumb even to me.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  17. Rush

    Liberalism at its finest. Tell everyone else what you think is right and then make them abide by it.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Edwin

      Generally it is conservative groups that object to certain words or teachings, not liberal groups - especially in literature, science, art, music, and history.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  18. fp737

    When I was a kid in elementary school in the 1960's, we talked about everything. We sang Hannukah and Christmas songs, we argued openly with atheist kids about the proof or lack thereof of god. We talked about racial stuff. We talked about evolution and the Bible and the Torah. We talked about scientific evidence that contradicted these texts. We had kids of all races and many religions (or none) in the class. And we all got along.

    It was great! We debated with enthusiasm, smug that our position was the right one. There were no fights, nobody went and whined to their parents and even if they did, Mom and Dad wouldn't care. They sure wouldn't come in and whine to the principal and start some stupid lawsuit.

    What a tragedy that we've degenerated to this level. Shame on those who are so arrogant and selfish that they are unwilling to allow others free and open expression of their lives and views. This sucks.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Edwin

      No fights? Seriously? I grew up in the suburbs - a reasonably affluent area. There were no racial conflicts - almost everyone was white, and nobody cared much about race. We had no gangs. But we still had fights at recess - no guns or knives, but there were most definitely fights.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  19. Farlandr

    I think they should ban all tests altogether – they might evoke unpleasant feelings in dumb people, which appears to be the majority...

    March 30, 2012 at 12:06 am |
  20. Tom

    This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. School is for learning. How can you learn by avoidance? The world is getting to sensitive for its own good. Why even have schools? If I was a parent in that school district I would be protesting!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Edwin

      School IS for learning. Standardized tests are not. They are for assessment only.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:11 am |
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