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. Johnny Mo

    This is really stupid. I'm a conservative and a Christian and have no problem with any of these words. The word "evolution" doesn't worry me in the least.

    Soon, we won't be able to say anything. Can I use that word?

    Let's just put everything back on the table, relax a little, and talk to each other.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:38 am |
  2. atroy

    My mother worked in an office with two Jehovah's Witnesses who vocalized their opposition to office birthday parties; they wouldn't sign the birthday card or bring gifts although they were first in line for whatever cake and food were brought by others.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:29 am |
  3. Fritz Hohenheim

    Screw the fundamentalists!

    March 30, 2012 at 4:19 am |
    • gman

      OK NAZI.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  4. Bradbury

    Has no one ever read Fahrenheit 451? The book burning started because certain words were offensive to certain groups and eventually all words were offensive to someone. Welcome to the slippery slope. Happy skiing.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  5. bigfoot

    Man coexisted with dinosaurs 6000 years ago on a flat earth that just recently rehaped to round. Oh, and global warming is a fantasy of the socialists.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:56 am |
  6. americaz

    Seriously? Maybe we should ban the word Reality. Oh or maybe we should just all get together and have us a good old fashion book burning 'cause we certainly don't want anything around that might possibly be offensive to someone with no common sense, or no sense of reality; for God's sake let's be sure to protect those people at all cost while raising a generation of thin-skinned, closed-minded imbeciles. Come on everyone, I’ll supply the marshmallows.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:50 am |
  7. sereny

    Religion by far is the most offensive of all.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:45 am |
    • gman

      you're not even worth responding to. you're far too ignorant.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:49 am |
    • TING

      The most dangerous to humankind.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • gman

      i suggest you 2 morons read a book called " TORTURED FOR CHRIST " , it tells how the underground church

      broke the grip of communism in Romania. The price paid was horrible. But since you love a government

      devoid of morals or free thinking take both your sorry asses to a communist country and see what happens

      when you oppose the government there. Or go back in time and live in Hitlers regime. Then see

      how big your pathetic mouths are.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:58 am |
    • Chris


      Sereny is correct in her statement, try naming something else that weighs as heavily as religion in society? Remember this is all being done because the religious nut cases do not want to hear their religions talked bad about. They want their specific education implemented that caters to their belief system. If this was a religious country we would be just like the middle east, just less sand.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:09 am |
    • norelegion

      An insult to human dignity.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:10 am |
    • Chris


      Hitler was a christian who was blessed by the pope, and those people wouldve fought despite their religion, people will want to be free no matter their beliefs.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:13 am |
    • gman

      chris, first of all it's obvious your not a christian or you would know as i have said repeatedly tonight. christians of
      all people believe in freedom of speech. we simply preach the gospel because christ tells us to. also we know we
      are sinners and are NO better than anyone else therefor incapable of dictating how another human being should act.
      we emphatically stand for a holy god who he himself calls us to act responsibly not any other human being. there
      are many religions true and many may be false but we as christians do not seek to control other peoples beliefs. only
      to seek the truth and righteousness of our god. without a moral compass or guide to the universe people migrate to
      their own values. just as a ship needs a bearing wheather it be the stars or compass to find it's way, so do people
      who haven't been on this earth nearly as long as the mountains or rivers that inhabit this planet also. don't confuse
      people who are decieved with false religion for those who worship the real creator of this great universe. he's been
      here long before us and will guide us if we ask.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:15 am |
    • gman

      chris , one other thing, Hitler was not a christian. no god fearing christian would dare persecute 6 millions jews
      as the bible says who ever curses israel i will curse and whoever blesses israel i will bless. no christian in their
      right mind would dare do what he did. satan worked through him and the bible says he masquerades as an angel
      of light. there in lies hitlers master. an angel of light. not JESUS not GOD.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:20 am |
    • Chris


      History tells of a completely different story of christianity, also i can quote numerable bible quotes that says other than that of a peaceful religion, Jesus himself stating he did not bring peace but a sword. But i will read one more reply, we do not want to hijack the thread with another forum off topic.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • gman

      that's fine but the sword that JESUS spoke of is the word of god. many parents will be at odds with their sons
      and daughters over the truth of christ and vice versa. He who believes Jesus is the christ is the one who
      knows god. that what he meant.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:29 am |
  8. gman

    will you people get it for the last time. this isn't about religion. the article starts off with a reference to weed,
    which we can all assume pretty much that is pot. also it refers intially to acts of nature that might connote fear. the article
    then finally makes it's way to assumed faith based issues. the people passing these laws have a much larger agenda
    than creationism or evolution. it is the utter control of your childrens education and they are playing 2 sides against
    the middle. in the end non faith based groups and faith based groups batteling each other will just assume a compromise
    is the best solution and leave control to them. that's the real evil in all this. wake up for the last time and tell them hands
    off and recognize the real enemy.

    in the movie " the sum of all fears " with ben affleck and morgan freeman. the terrorist made a statement about hitler.
    he said hitler wasn't crazy he was stupid. you don't take on the US or RUSSIA. you get them to fight each other. that's
    what the whole movie was about and that's what this propaganda garbage is about. the new world order and control
    of our children and what they learn because they are the future. when is the last time your kid in school talked about
    JFK or VIETNAM ? ask yourself why and then you will understand who the enemy is.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:41 am |
    • Chris

      Kind of hard when its the "Belief Blog" than goes into detail of creationists and other religious sects.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:57 am |
    • gman

      so be it. but NYDOE does start out with other things being censored or up for censorship. and in the end
      division is the fallout. Doesn't lesson DOE'S stupidity or that of those controling the childrens agenda.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:01 am |
  9. SkyNet2567

    The future is great. Our kids might learn that aliens can be teleported if you juggle balls enough if an adequate amount of people lobby for it. I'm sure our nation's overall critical thinking abilities will soar!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:36 am |
  10. Chrisnot

    Hmm? Banning words? This is a step, a small, step but a step, just the same, to banning books isn't it? There has been discontent expressed by some folks about "words" used by Mark Twain. Let's change the words, some say; same as let's change what made the man a universally appreciated philosopher, lecturer, author, critic, essayest. Reading words, reading books is about expanding the mind, about intellectual growth, about agreeing and disagreeing, about being entertained. We really can't allow this to happen!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  11. Quincey9

    I, for one, refuse to walk on eggshells just to pacify the overly sensitive.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:26 am |
  12. Chris

    This has to be one of the most upsetting things i have read in a long time. The very fact that schools are now banning words because it may offend some religious people. It may disturb students train of thought!? The school system is to prepare kids for the future! This system is creating overly sensitive and meek people. There will be no one to hold the hands of these children when they become adults. We are witnessing an absurd standard because of POLITICS, where the school board has zero protection from the higher ups and has to try to please everybody to keep their jobs. Congratulations to another epic failure of America's education system.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:22 am |
  13. KB

    Have we learned _nothing_ from "Footloose"!??!?!?!?

    March 30, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  14. Al

    The Christian Taliban is going to be the death of the United States. The whole reason why there's a Separation of Church and State, is because the founders saw the religious nuts screaming on the street corners of Philadelphia, and rushed back to write to ensure that there was a separation from religion in government. The far Rightists still don't understand the concept of the Separation of Church and State. YES, its main goal to keep religion OUT of government. I know they can't stand hearing that.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:08 am |
  15. Brandon Comer

    Dinosaurs? Are you kidding me? I hate the religious right in this country.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:08 am |
    • REC

      Did you actually read the article or are you simply aproduct of the NYC Public school sytem?

      March 30, 2012 at 3:42 am |
  16. Justin H

    People often blame this kind of thing on "liberalism". I consider myself to be fairly liberal and I find this to be ridiculous to the nth degree. Even if there is an argument to be made that some of these words represent things that might be offensive to particular religions or cultures, the fact is they still have specific meanings which are part of the social fabric of our society.

    I can maybe see an argument for keeping topics like "divorce" or "death" from really young kids – say younger than 8-9, because they are not mature enough to fully grasp the concepts. But to "ban" the words outright is indefensible.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • Anon

      This ban reeks of religious right-wing creationists.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  17. josh

    I'm a firm believer in the bible, but to be honest.. even with your reason which I understand.. I still believe this is a pointless move. Just because you ban words from tests, doesn't mean the words suddenly no longer exist.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:43 am |
    • Anon

      Bible = Big book of ancient Jewish myths AKA telephone game for delusional minds.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • TING

      I agree. Just because you remove the words logic and reason from tests, doesn't mean that people will stop thinking and start believing the Bible.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:46 am |
    • REC


      BIBLE = Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth!

      March 30, 2012 at 3:48 am |
  18. dada

    creationist believe in dinos BUT
    they also think our forefathers domesticated the dinos and ended up killing all of them for delicious meat. so dinos were extinct
    😀 😀
    now can we stop spending resource on dino research 😀

    March 30, 2012 at 2:36 am |
    • josh

      Wrong. We believe the few the survived after the pressure lifted, (small lungs and lack of air don't mix), were not just hunted for food, but for sport or protection. Which is why all over the world you hear stories of dragons, I mean, unless you wanna chill with a dino for a neighborhood pet. Please, don't mock our beliefs without some understanding first.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:46 am |
    • josh

      One more note here, domesticated? No. Before the flood we didn't need meat, after we did. So prior to the flood, we just found no reason to kill each other, after that we needed food. (before the flood being the garden)

      March 30, 2012 at 2:49 am |
  19. dada

    If we collect and publish a book of all the comments here, we will have a great satire crowd sourced.
    By the way, creationist is a joke and i don't know what religion has to do with serious people other than it is the breeding ground for these clowns. Really, those dumb who believe world is 6000 years old, should leave the earth and be with god.( hope they are smart enuf to fig out HOW to be with GOD :)))

    And if these jokers are offended, i am glad that i am able to offend you. Can we export these clowns to other part of world ( where we wedge war , so that people can have some fun watching them)

    March 30, 2012 at 2:25 am |
    • josh

      First off, you should really learn to express your feelings a little clearer because this is just a mess here.
      I find it comical that you're mocking our beliefs, when I highly doubt you don't even understand your own. Your belief has ZERO proof, just as mine. We have things that we believe to back it up, as do you. Just because we believe in a creator, doesn't make us unintelligent, it just means we see the world differently. Also, we know how to be with God, it's very easy. Was this offensive? Not at all, my beliefs stay strong, nice attempt though buddy.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:54 am |
    • josh

      Also, your last part is disgusting, to throw people with a belief in a higher power into a war zone (learn to spell too, it's "wage"), just to have fun and "watch" us? Sick dude, you've got some things you clearly need so sort out. I would NEVER wish the death of someone who didn't share my beliefs, I wish for only peace.. and you call me crazy.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:57 am |
    • Anon

      Your imaginary desert god Yahweh/Jesus/Allah is a psychotic piece of $#it.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  20. Richard

    Why take the time to ban words? It's not like kids are taught to read, much less think, in school anymore...

    March 30, 2012 at 2:23 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.