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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. really?

    See where your local tax dollars go too. Some guy sitting in a room spending all day figuring out which words might offend somebody. What a joke.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  2. Daws

    Ridiculous, if we're gonna fear upsetting fundamentalists, why don't we just ban the word "science" as well?

    March 30, 2012 at 6:26 am |
    • mvoci

      agreed! My chemistry class caused me psychological damages that I'm never going too get over, the word is very hurtful to me.

      This stuff is bogus.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:36 am |
  3. Concernedmod

    Why protect groups from words such as "birthday" in grade school when they are part of natural adult life. There are bigger issues to worry about.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  4. Bugger

    Our public education system is doomed. The only solution is to decentralize. Get the State and Feds out of the decision making process. It is the vehicle by which politicians, lobbyists, unions, and special interest groups exert their influence. We need to get back to local control of our schools. Let teachers use their talents to teach our children and focus on the basics.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:12 am |
  5. jay12312

    This is so stupid

    March 30, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  6. martog

    Ten Reasons You Know you are an Atheist.
    1. You were likely brought up a theist (probably a Christian if you live in the USA) and had to do your own thinking to rise above the beliefs that still occupy the mind of the believer. This usually involved being smart and working hard at school and college so as to get a good, accurate view of the natural Universe and overcoming significant social pressure to dumb yourself down and conform. In short, you had the guts to ask the hard questions and the brains to spot the weak answers. The more you came to understand the Universe, the less reason there was to believe in a god and the more you came to appreciate human nature, the more you understood why billions of us still do.
    2. While rejecting the supernatural elements of the Bible, you nevertheless retain a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent you reject Christian morality, it is where it is mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, your basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – you just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over your head in order to act in a manner that you consider moral.
    3. You know a great deal more about the Bible than most believers. This is because you took the time to read it yourself and did not rely on the primary-color simple stories you learned in Sunday school. You have also probably done some research into the historical Jesus and have a good handle on where he REALLY fit in to the broader picture of the Middle East at the time. Needless to say, his miracles and other magic powers soon started to look pretty unlikely.
    4. Your knowledge of basic science and history is much stronger than that of your average believer. You likely have a basic working knowledge of physics, astronomy, evolutionary biology and cosmology and a good idea of the history of life on this planet. This acc.umulated knowledge puts you in a position to judge the claims of the Bible in a critical light and they are almost always found wanting. To the theist, this makes you “elitist” and ‘arrogant”.
    5. You relish your role as a religious minority in the USA, as this gives you an impetus to fight and you understand how others with unpopular, but doubtlessly correct views have felt throughout history. There is something altogether satisfying to you about having a deep conviction you are right and being viewed with disdain for your views by the errant majority. You feel a quiet confidence that future generations will look back on you as a member of a class of trailblazers, as religious supersti.tions go into inevitable decline in popularity.
    6. You are likely more environmentally aware than your theist friends and colleagues and unlikely to fall for claims of industry and wind-bag politicians concerning the impact of man’s activities on the environment. You could no more act in an environmentally irresponsible manner because “god will keep us safe” than you could jump of a ship, believing King Neptune will keep you safe.
    7. You generally have a live and let live atti.tude, but will fiercely defend any attempts by theists to thrust their views on you or your children, directly or through control of school boards, the legislature or the executive. While you are prepared to debate and argue passionately with the theist on an intellectual level, you would never wish them harm or ill will. You know you are likely to be smugly told you will “burn in hell for all eternity” for your healthy skepticism. This highlights what you despise about religion, as you would not wish a bad sunburn on another, simply because they have a different religious view to you. You have never heard of an evolutionary biologist strapping a bomb to himself and running into a church yelling “Darwin-u akbar”.
    8. You likely know more about other religions than your average theist. This makes you less fearful of them and enables you to see parallels. You realize that, if you were born in India, you would have been brought up with a totally different religion. You realize that every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. They cannot all exist and you see the error all faiths make of thinking only theirs exist(s). This “rising above” the regional nature of all religions was probably instrumental in your achieving atheism.
    9. You likely have a deep, genuine appreciation of the fathomless beauty and unbelievable complexity of our Universe, from the 4 nucleotides that orchestrate every aspect of you, through to the distant quasars, without having to think it was all made for you. You likely get more out of being the irrelevant ant staring up at the cosmos than you do in having to pretend that it was all made to turn in majestic black-and-white pirouette about you.
    10. While you have a survival instinct, you cannot fear death in the way the theist does. You know that the whole final judgment story, where you may be sent to hell if you fail, is Dark Ages nonsense meant to keep the Church’s authority. You also know that you were dead for 13,700,000,000 years before you were born. It is impossible for you to fear death, for the simple reason that you know the capacity to fear (or to feel pain or discomfort) itself dies. You will not even know you are dead. Fear of death is as meaningless to you as is the fear of a vacuum, the fear of not being born. You feel a lot more secure, and indeed a deep comfort, in this knowledge, than you would in trying to yoke yourself to some quasi-hope that every part of your intellect tells you is untenable.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • Bugger

      I suppose humility is not a characteristic of Atheists.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:17 am |
    • mobetta

      Blowhard....

      March 30, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • mvoci

      I love how all atheist are well trained philosophers, theologians, biblical scholars, and scientists all wrapped into one beautiful gift that they share so freely with the world. Their education is so paramount to the rest of us that they, and only they, are the experts on every subject matter and it shows by their beautifully articulate posts on a CNN blog.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Jim

      Notice the "atheist" has a burning need to pontificate.
      Notice the "atheist" has a driving need to post unrelated comments in order play on his hobby horse.
      Notice the "atheist" needs to denigrate others in order to make himself look good.
      Notice the "atheist" doesn't know what he is talking about.

      Now we could extrapolate this isolated person who claims to be an atheist (which is doubtful, the little boy is as mature as a 7th grader) into a representation of all atheists and commit the philosophical fallacy of a hasty generalization. But we won't because we know this blowhard is not representative of atheists – he is a pretender trying to be "cool" and failing.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Daws

      mvoci, I love how that's the best you can do for a retort.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • mvoci

      @daws did i miss something? was my point unclear?

      March 30, 2012 at 6:44 am |
    • martog

      And not one of you 'blowhards' can refute ONE thing I posted. Pontificate on that!

      March 30, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Bugger

      Martog, you have a right to your religion just like the rest of us. In my religion, we do not value delusions of grandeur. Your arguments would be much stronger if you focused on a respect for others as opposed to disrespect.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • mvoci

      @mortag there is nothing to refute there. my post before this was simply to demonstrate that generalizations about any group are just wrong. There exists plenty of stupid atheists just as there exists plenty of stupid theists, and in contrast, there exists plenty of well-educated people of both beliefs (or lack-there-of).

      For you to try to explain that all atheists are superior to the works of copernicus, kepler, descartes, leibniz and other Christians... or to imply that they are of an inferior intellect because of their belief in God is hysterical

      March 30, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • martog

      Wow, where in my post does it say that all Atheists are superior to anyone?AND, FWIW, I do NOT believe in religion. Religion is a manmade idea used to control others. I cannot prove or disprove god or a creator. but religion is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind......and you fall head over heels for it.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • martog

      Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian
      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  7. Stu

    Glad we're coming up with new ways to slip further behind, in education, compared to the rest of the world.

    March 30, 2012 at 5:49 am |
    • Doug

      Additional fodder suporting my decision to move to China last year, where at the age of 42, an old dinosaurs like me can still roam the earth without fear of persecution : )

      March 30, 2012 at 6:19 am |
  8. miscreantsall

    This is what we have de-evolved to.

    Utter nonsense!

    March 30, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  9. AusieSceptic1

    is there no end to this politically correct crap?

    why not just fit everybody with blinkers/blinders and ear filters

    March 30, 2012 at 5:40 am |
  10. cameo35

    ......................... OH NO ! WE GOT NAZI IN NEW YORK !......................................

    March 30, 2012 at 5:30 am |
    • Orwell seen it before

      Obey Texas and NY shall be protected.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:32 am |
  11. JOHN WILTSHIRE

    WHAT A BUNCH OF COMPLEAT IDIOTS!!!!!! SOUNDS LIKE ADOLF IS BACK IN TOWN. RIGHT ALONG WITH HIS BUDDY OBAMA.

    March 30, 2012 at 5:28 am |
    • Dahlimama

      TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE! The president of the United States is no more a Nazi than I am. And your lame attempt to force your hatred of Black People on the rest of us shows who is really the disgusting one here.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  12. err

    I wonder if they are going to start burning books next that are deemed to controvercial. ( Can I hear goose stepping in the back ground ? )

    March 30, 2012 at 5:25 am |
    • Orwell seen it before

      Too old fashioned. They pulp them and sell the remains to make money.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:30 am |
    • Jim

      That would create carbon emissions so the left-wingers in charge in NYC would require the books to be recycled.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:35 am |
  13. jillian

    I have now officially heard everything. Disgraceful.

    March 30, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  14. Shakespeare

    And other world they can banned is "GOD" they can offend atheists
    Let's continued banned: What about "MONEY" or "WAR" or "RELIGION" or "OIL"
    Welcome to the XXI century!!!

    March 30, 2012 at 5:16 am |
    • Duh

      I do beleive that was implied under religion.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:22 am |
  15. tom

    words can kill , but jesus still loves us all and like any GOOD judge will judge us all soon whether we like it or not so God bless you all and we all need to REPENT of our deeds

    March 30, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Anon

      Screw Jesus, even a clown can offer better advice.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  16. Havanas

    I suggest we start compiling a list of banned words for a new sort of dictionary. Starters to include–
    Stupid, fat, sick, dead, blind, deaf, poor, handicap, black, white, Christian, Jewish, Muslim..(add any religion here), science,
    beauty and intelligence (both to subjective and controversial), mother and father (my evoke painful childhood memories), cat and dog (lots of allergy sufferers), peanuts, strawberries, dairy products, and for the Amish, let's do away with any words referring to technology (car, bus, etc.).

    March 30, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • Duh

      Dont forget Atheist, Godless, heathen and Pagan also ( may bring back memories of mass murder and human sacrifice)

      March 30, 2012 at 5:21 am |
  17. Mike

    Shouldn't they be spending more time with more important things? Like how we can slow down this epidemic of extremely uneducated people still graduating high school and college? Why don't we fix that problem first?

    March 30, 2012 at 5:00 am |
  18. red

    Can't fathom this is accurate. New York, are you really that far gone?

    March 30, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • Orwell seen it before

      New York obeys Texas on matters of truth. Perry's rule applies.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:27 am |
  19. Dwwajw

    Remind me again why we need a Dept of Education at the national level? Schools are state and local issues and paid for locally. The Feds take additional tax money so this "Think tank" in DC can help guide our local schools down the path of medicrity.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:55 am |
    • ItsAMirage

      You do realize this is the NYC Dept of school's, not the Federal Dept of schools. NYC is the only one that wants to ban this words.
      By the way, no wonder why our public education system sucks if we are more afraid to hurt their feelings instead of teaching them.
      Oh and yes schools are paid locally, until the state screws up, runs out of money, and begs the Federal Govt for assistance!!! Yes we all hate the Federal Govt.......that's until you need it.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:28 am |
  20. doc

    Lets see next we can ban the word EAT, as it would be to sensitive for those who are overweight. Then we can ban pork as it would offend muslims. So when enough words are eliminated then no one will no what your talking about as they will not understand you anymore. What is this country coming to? This is very sad.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:47 am |
    • Jay

      I'm pretty sure they did that already with the word "pepperoni."

      March 30, 2012 at 5:17 am |
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