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. American Public

    OMG we are turning into a nation of p.u.s.s.i.e.s. Grow thicker skin, folks. Seriously, dinosaurs???Please!!!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Your fifth grade teacher

      Be a bit more careful with your writing: since you used the word "we", you are including yourself as one of the pussies.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:42 am |
  2. Steve

    OH FOR F***S SAKE!!! If we were to ban every word, idea and activity that offended someone then all the human race would be doing would be kneeling on the ground with out heads buried in the sand. If you don't like something, fine. You don't like something. But instead of whining to your congressman or senator or your whomever, try dealing with it like the adult you're supposed to be rather than like the 2 year old you're acting like.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Mike

      I agree with you Steve.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • A bit more thoughtfulness would help

      You do realize that those words were not banned in school, or for most school work or testing, only for standardized testing? Do you know what standardized testing is?

      Chill out, take your meds, everything is fine. It's ridiculous all right, but it is also totally harmless.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  3. Beatrix Kiddo

    Any reference to the Earth being round is banned also, so as not to offend the Flat Earth Society.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  4. C'mon Sense

    This is ridiculous. They are words. Trying to anticipate who is going to get "hurt" is a complete waste of time and taxpayer's money. Words don't hurt people, guns do. No, wait. Guns don't hurt people either, people do. They might as well "ban" ALL words. Shame on CNN for printing this dreck.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  5. Mike H

    The schools are supposed to prepare students for life in the "real world." That real-world is likely to include an instance or two where the banned words may be used, and everyone will have to deal with it. Banning any of the words mentioned in this article is silly, if not criminal.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  6. MrsFizzy

    REDONK. Kids should learn there will always be things in life that "upset" them and not everybody lives life wrapped up in bubble wrap. 😛

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 am |
  7. Reality

    Hey, this blog uses a filter for "offensive" words and word fragments numbering (based on the Word counter) at least 165. So in a way the topic prepares the NYC students for the computer world. No doubt newpapers and magazine publishers have word and fragment filters loaded on all of their PCs

    ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
    co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
    co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
    cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
    cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
    ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
    ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
    ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
    ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
    jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
    ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
    koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
    pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
    pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
    ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
    se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
    sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
    sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
    ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
    va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
    who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

    There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
    Allowed words / not blocked at all:
    raping (ra-pe is not ok)
    shat (sh-@t is not ok)

    March 29, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • jim


      March 29, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  8. Quid Malmborg

    The only reason for a Fundamentalist to be offended by the term "dinosaur" is if they feel it applies to them- which itself is an indication of their ignorance.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Din

      Please... don´t offend the dinosaurs...

      March 29, 2012 at 2:22 am |
  9. mike

    No wounder the kids are graduating from high school with a thrid grade education.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:12 am |
  10. Craig

    Given that school cafeterias regularly serve pepperoni pizza...with that famous tomato sauce counting as one serving of veggies, I seriously doubt there's a single kid out that who would find that word problematic, unless the test is just before lunch. Birthday? You've got to be kidding. The only people who don't like birthdays are women about to turn over the first digit. Name one kid who finds the idea of Birthday a bad thing. This is just a reminder that Einstein had it right when he uttered these words: Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  11. Good Grief

    The US is going backwards intellectually. If this keeps up, the cave-dwelling Taliban will be more sophisticated than the US will be.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Frank, from up the road a bit

      This is only part of the legacy of Bush Number 2.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  12. Frank, from up the road a bit

    As a county penetration supervisor, I hate the fact that I can't tell anyone what my job is without hearing giggles.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Frank, from up the road a bit



      March 29, 2012 at 12:05 am |
  13. PhillUranus

    what a primitive bunch!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  14. Ken Margo

    Any wonder why we rank so low in educating our children!

    March 29, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  15. joe

    Have we not banned the word "Creationist" yet?

    March 29, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  16. Horns12

    Every word in this article offends me. Please remove it CNN... oh wait the acronym CNN offends me too.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:02 am |
    • sakura4miu

      CNN is an abbreviation

      March 29, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Beatrix Kiddo

      Acronym = a word formed from the initial letters or groups of letters of words in a set phrase.
      Abbreviation = a shortened or contracted form of a word or phrase.

      Therefore, CNN is an acronym of Cable News network.

      You're welcome, sakura4miu. Knowledge is power.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  17. Vince

    There are many things that offend me, but I accept it because we are not all the same and need to be tolerant of other ideologies.

    March 29, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  18. James PDX

    And here I thought mental retardation was a genetic disease. Apparently it's a learned disorder – taught by our public schools.

    March 28, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  19. gerald

    This is a joke, right?? April fools, right?
    This is just another reason why my son is in private school.
    Thank god for private schools

    March 28, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • Yabba Dabba Don't

      Uh, gerald? In case you didn't know it, your kid has to take those standardized tests every year too, private school or not. It's from the "No kids left behind" fumble that W inflicted on schools. The words to be "banned" are only on those tests; they are not banned in any other school use, which includes all other testing.

      Indeed, the whole idea about offending people's tender sensibilities is ridiculous since the rest of the school experience can and does use those words quite often. I doubt that not knowing what a pepperoni is will affect the

      But ultimately, what they are doing, bizarre and pointless as it is, will not have any negative impact on the kids either. The only loss is the wasted time involved in developing this policy.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  20. marty

    Didn't any of you geniuses read the story? The fundamentalists have no problem with dinosaurs. This is strictly someone's idea at the NYC dept. of education. Get it straight, people!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • Mr. Creosote

      Anyone who thinks that people coexisted with dinosaurs 6000 years ago has a REAL problem with dinosaurs.

      March 29, 2012 at 12:35 am |
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