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. shewbox

    What a shame. This country is really going to HELL!!!! Is that offensive??

    March 30, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • God

      I'll save you a good seat, I'm in good with your devil

      March 30, 2012 at 1:11 am |
    • shewbox

      Thanks...I'll see you there

      March 30, 2012 at 1:17 am |
  2. abcontador

    Can we ban religion altogether – that would be a very good thing for this world

    March 30, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  3. D

    Well then, I guess we will have to ban all television shows and movies as, HEAVEN FORBID (if I can use 'heaven' and 'forbid') our children might hear a word that might offend or upset them. What kind of generation will we be raising? I do not believe the stupidity of some people! I am so glad that I have retired from teaching and testing children. Now I can wander about my property muttering 'offensive' or 'anxiety producing' words under my breath!

    March 30, 2012 at 1:07 am |
  4. jennifer2pc

    The religious nut-bags are attacking education once again and it must be stopped, fact is they are following a false god and only through education & science will humanity learn about the universe and find the truth.

    March 30, 2012 at 1:05 am |
    • God

      Couldn't have said it better my dear

      March 30, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • abcontador

      so very true

      March 30, 2012 at 1:09 am |
    • gman

      jennifer , how can you say it's the religious people who want to ban these things when one of the things being
      banned and high on the ny list if you read the article was faith based words. this does a christian no good
      at all to have this kind of censorship and we don't believe it's right at all.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  5. Santorum Must Come Out Already

    Zimbabwe is laughing at us.

    ZIMBABWE!!! They're not afraid of teaching their kids about dinosaurs. And these are people who worship Juju the mountain god.

    March 30, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  6. fade to black

    Toughen up kids to face reality. The world is a rough place, America needs to stop raising wussy kids. I just hope, the future aint gonna be like one in 'Idiocracy' movie.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  7. elvis costanza

    Ridiculous and sad.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  8. haha

    I am trying to think of a response but I don't even know what to say haha.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Tracy

      Choose your words wisely or you might offend someone!

      March 30, 2012 at 1:02 am |
    • Dumbfounded

      There are no words to explain one's feelings on this absurd action. It appears that any word would probably be offensive to someone, somewhere.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  9. bsobserver

    I think that all people, whether they be liberal or conservative, should oppose any movement that attempts to remove words that are deemed sensitive or politically incorrect. Any attempt to "sanitize" words borders on violation of free speech & would hinder open discussion.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • Tracy

      It would also hinder common sense.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  10. Tracy

    Next time a stranger offends me I am going to call him or her a dinosaur instead of a cvnt.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  11. gman

    is SMOKING IN THE BOYS RM , still legal ? or blowing up commodes with cherry bombs ?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  12. Tracy

    Sounds to me like the CNN moderators have infiltrated the NY education system!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  13. 9001

    pizza is now a vegetable and DINOSAUR is offensive. FU*K YOU!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  14. massms

    When students who have been shielded from 'offensive' verbiage graduate and find jobs in the real world, will they be able to withstand the stress – the shock – the pressure – of encountering these (and other) forbidden words or will they suffer grievious, irreversible psychological harm?

    It's time to stop cosseting children and start toughening them up so they're equipped to face reality.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Kevin Hagedorn

      This is't for the students, they call each other plenty of names. This is for their parents, you never know when one of them will go off the handle for religious reasons.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:55 am |
  15. Are You Sh#&in' Me?

    Where is Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales when you need him?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • alateos

      Some dark humor there buddy

      March 30, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  16. alateos

    Are they going to call them giant reptiles now?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:50 am |
    • Tracy

      They will probably call them Satan's Little Helpers.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • RJP

      Jesus ponies!

      March 30, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  17. Rude Knee


    March 30, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  18. macvootie

    Banning "loaded words" makes me want to get "loaded." Hm, they ought to ban that one. Also they should ban "I" - too egotistical.

    How about banning 12 letters from the alphabet and see what you have left? Doesn't matter which ones – 26 is far too many.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • Tracy

      Most kids don't use half the letters now with the garbage they use to communicate via text and social networking.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:59 am |
  19. md

    The fall of the Roman Empire. We really fu.....ed this country totally.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  20. Rick

    This is SOOOOOOOOO stupid. I worry about anyone who would take the time to go through the English language and "find" offensive words. Leave it alone; common sense will tell you what is offensive.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:46 am |
    • Tracy

      This article is offensive!

      March 30, 2012 at 1:00 am |
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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.