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. tree

    I want to ban anyword that can even be remotely associated with conservativism. Please note I am being sarcastic, though I am fairly liberal I would never really mean to want to ban any words and on top of that believe it or not I actually do have respect for conservatives, just because we are different doesn't mean we don't deserve respect.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  2. Buzzy

    Can we also ban these two words...politically correct?

    March 30, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  3. Blind Dog Fulton

    George Orwell called this New Speak. Eliminate the word and you eliminate the thought, and you can better control the population.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:25 am |
  4. Kieran

    How is this possible? How can dinosaur be offensive? I think chimpanzee is offensive!

    March 30, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • Dave

      I don't think chimpanzee is offensive. How about b u t t p l u g?

      March 30, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  5. Polemos

    This is absurd. I'm skeptical of the claims of Evolutionary Theory, but I'm by no means opposed to the word or its presentation in classrooms as a theory of biological development. The point of academia is to provide an environment in which the greatest ideas of mankind can be mulled over and discussed.

    And as for those who are taking this article as evidence of the stupidity of religious groups, let's be fair and also note that many atheists are just as absurdly opposed to words like "God," "biblical," and "Christmas." For every close-minded religious believer, there most definitely is a close-minded atheist.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • sick of republican phonies

      I wouldn't necessarily assume dinosaur was left off for the sake of creationists. They don't give a reason for it's censure. And don't worry, there is plenty of other evidence making clear the stupidity of religious groups. I would agree that this isn't one of them.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  6. downstater

    Hold onto your hats kids! We (our nation) are falling fast!

    March 30, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  7. Dale

    Lets ban the pay checks of the people making these stupid decisions.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:11 am |
    • Sandra

      Best idea I've read.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  8. Dale

    Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are now dead in the US, thanks liberals.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:10 am |
  9. Dave

    I don't like words like Arab, Muslim, Opec, Sheik and a few others in that catagory. Now lets hear it from those who love them.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:09 am |
  10. Mike from Missisippi

    Really? These are words kids hear everyday regardless if we like it or not. Schools AND parents are suppose to be preparing kids for society and this is not it! Overcrowding, budget cuts, violence, and the low educational standards and we are worried about words that might be sensitive or cause emotional turmoil? How stupid, as a society, can we really become?

    March 30, 2012 at 7:05 am |
  11. TonyB

    how unbelievably stupid- a nation of morons.

    March 30, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  12. TonyB

    how unbelievably stupid- a nation of wimps.

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

      YOU must be speaking of the wimps and such in your neighborhood. You do not speak for mine.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  13. John

    They want to ban simple words that offend dozens of so-called religions but I can't go to the movies because of all the f & s words that make me sick to my stomach. The stupidity in this world will never end.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Ken

      "f AND s" make you sick to your stomach? GROW UP!
      S comes out of your B everyday...and if you have never F'd you really need to give it a whirl...
      F and S are words, granting them power over yourself is your issue...not the words fault.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  14. Dumbmdown


    March 30, 2012 at 6:55 am |
  15. Joe

    They're laying off teachers, can't afford supplies, or to heat or cool the schools, and they're actually paying someone to come up with the idiocy!

    March 30, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Dave

      If 40% of the lotto is going to education why can't they afford heat and supplies? Who is getting fat off that?

      March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  16. Kana

    This is the T-ball effect where no body loses and everyone wins. Well that's not reality, in the real world there are winners and losers. Not everyone is equal. Everyone has different abilities, things they are better at than someone else. Most children are aware of the things around them. Life isn't fair and it doesn't need to be sugar coated. Children at age appropriate times are able to understand things if they are explained.
    This is just a passive aggressive way of censorship where the g0vt slowly erodes our freedoms.
    F*** Political Correctness!!

    March 30, 2012 at 6:45 am |
  17. Upstater

    Taking political correctness to that extreme is retarded! 😀

    March 30, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  18. smelly

    Go to hell creationists, fundamentalists, and all the rest of that ilk. Banning 'loaded words'? Are you kidding me? Why does this country keep getting dumber and dumber?

    March 30, 2012 at 6:39 am |
    • mastermind

      you are a loser!! This a left wing liberal idea!!! Them and the ACLU have been messing up this country for years!!

      March 30, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Dawg Phish

      This is not a "Liberal" agenda, it's a conservative agenda, duh. Liberals don't believe in creationism (evolution), don't believe that that the dinosaurs roamed the earth with man nor that it was created 6000yrs ago (millions as it's been PROVEN, scientifically, many times over). It's overly sensitive conservative bible thumpers who are pushing this, not liberals who have an open mind.

      March 30, 2012 at 7:36 am |
  19. Albacoruse

    This is the most asinine, inane thing anyone could be focusing on at the current time. Trying to ban words is like trying to fine Grass for growing too tall.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:37 am |
  20. Texas Tumbleweed

    Gotta love those crazy fundies. Ok, not really.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:32 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.