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. palintwit

    Sarah Palin believes that dinosaurs became extinct when Noah threw them overboard. He was afraid they would capsize the arc.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • duh

      either that or they were eating all the other animals.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  2. duh

    watch the movie Idiocracy. Idiocracy, here we come, full speed ahead!

    March 30, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      I can't wait to ductape a giant dild0 to my car hood!

      March 30, 2012 at 8:41 am |
  3. RenegadeFL

    A "few paleontologists and geologists" share the theory that the Earth is 6,000 years old? How are we defining the word "few" as well as the words "paleontologist" and "geologist"? I don't think you can be a scientist and reject science at the same time.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Exactly. The wackadoodles that make claims like that do not have degrees and if they do they shouldn't. They are approaching science with their conclusions and then hammer the evidence to fit their views. It is the complete opposite of science.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • ryanhayesdesign

      Well, I think the point was that most scientists believe that the world is much (much, much, much) older than 6000 years old...

      March 30, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Rich

      I'm pretty sure that the number of paleontologists and geologists that share the (non-scientific) theory that the Earth is 6,000 years old is much less than the number paleontologists and geologists named Steve that believe the Earth 4.54 billion years old.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • ryanhayesdesign

      Woof. My last post came out wrong. What I intended was: I agree with Renegade that the choice of the word "few" in that sentence was a little odd in that moment of the article. But I also want to give the author the benefit of the doubt and say that he was intending it to be tongue-in-cheek / complete understatement.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  4. unretired05

    Most kids find math, science and english offensive, so why not just ban those subjects?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      I find idiots offensive. Can we get rid of those?

      March 30, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  5. Bible Clown©

    "Dragons" still exist on the islands; they have been killed off in Europe and were scarce back in medieval times. Supposedly the Austrian Tatzelwurm lasted into the 1600s in caves; a lizard as big as a wolf. And anyway, every warm-blooded creature descends from things that were prey for snakes and lizards; fear of them is wired into our brains.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  6. James

    We are producing a generation of people who are NOT prepared to live with other people or cultures, including their own! This is an indictment of the education system in this country, which is now operated by some of the same people it produced! Is it any wonder our nation is in such dispair????

    March 30, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  7. Anonymous010

    This has got to be the single stupidest thing I have ever read on CNN. Dinosaurs existed. That's not a theory; it's a fact. Banning that word because it makes some crazy creationists uncomfortable is asanine. It's the truth of the history of our planet, we can easily and irrefutably prove it, and they need to accept it. It's simple as that.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • M. Danielson

      That's not the point of the article. It says even "fundamentalists" (Oooo! bad word!) believe in dinosaurs.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • ¼½¾

      Thank you!

      March 30, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  8. walter

    Sounds like 1984 to me. Wonder what will be on the next ban list.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      SMALL SPEEK! Big Brother is Watching You!

      March 30, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  9. Jasi

    Unbelievable! Are they kidding? Banning words because somebody may get upset? This is life! Divorces happen! dinosaurs happened! Hurricanes? Birthdays? What next?!?!?!?! This is Land of the Free and Home of the Brave! Oh yeah, I forgot. We haven't had freedom in a long time even though our soldiers are still being brave and dying to protect that freedom we no longer have. We are a dictatorial society now. Can we please stop it now!

    March 30, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  10. Mike

    I try to keep an open mind and be understanding of other's beliefs, but this is... simply beyond sanity. Have we become such a culture that we can only use words that don't offend anyone? Rather, MIGHT offend someone? If someone chooses not to believe in dinosaurs, that's fine, However dinosaur IS a word and there's a definition of it in the dictionary. These are our children and the last thing I want is to have a generation of kids that don't know any word or it's defnition because in school, it was deemed offensive. Knowledge is power – not ignorance.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Chas

      Precisely, if you examine what bills your legislators (State/Fed) are introducing/passing you'd consider leaving this country.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  11. The Banner

    They should ban the word "God" and the word "Republican", especially in the same test, as "oh God, another Republican test".

    March 30, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  12. Thoughtpolice

    This is clearly not reflective of all New Yorkers. This foolishness is being suggested by a group of men living in the dark ages.
    The theory of evolution may just be a theory, a pretty solid one, but it sure beats believing in Adam and Eve and a dude in sandals with a beard.
    Religion is the opiate for the masses. Watch the movie Religulous. It's an eye opener for you believers in the great fairy tale.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • M. Danielson

      That's not the point of the article. It say even "fundamentalists" (Oooo! bad word!) believe in dinosaurs.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ M. Danielson – the point is that fundiots choose to be ignorant about science. Dinosaurs did not live 6000 years ago. You might as well claim that unicorns and satrys exist because the bible says they do.

      If people purposefully choose to be ignorant, fine.. If parents try and keep their kids as stupid as they are, fine. But they aren't going to use my public schools to do it. We will always need a supply of folks trained to say, "You want fries with that?".

      March 30, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  13. Offended

    Words starting with the letter 'A' offend me, so the list should include every one of those words. 🙂

    March 30, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  14. palintwit

    Wake up everybody ! Up and at 'em ! It's 8:20 AM EST and we have another big day of Sarah Palin bashing ahead of us ! Let's get going...

    March 30, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  15. Mike

    Thanks, NYCDOE, for perpetuating the perception that educators are complete idiots. We teachers applaud you.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  16. Adam

    I am sick and tired of so many of my fellow liberals being too afraid of offending people that they won't speak their minds. No matter what you say, someone is going to be offended, it is unavoidable. The New York DoE is going past trying not to offend anyone unfairly, and they are taking out all situations that could be learning experiences. It is a valuable experience to be exposed to things you are uncomfortable with while you are still young. After you leave school, there is nothing to stop you from hearing something that will offend you. People need to learn how to deal with it, and being shielded from potentially offensive speech is taking away a very valuable skill. People should be expect to never be offended by anything. There is a big difference between being intentionally offensive, which is something that should be avoided as much as possible, and saying what you think in a polite way, which will offend someone anyway. People just need to be polite and stop worrying so much about what everyone else thinks!

    March 30, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  17. Stu Piditiod

    I think we should also ban acronyms such as "CNN", "FNN", "CNBC", and the worst one of all, "NYDoE"....ewwww, I feed dirty just typing that one...I need a shower now....

    March 30, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  18. Joey

    The ONE word that evokes "unpleasant emotions in the students" is TEST. Try and fix that, ok?

    March 30, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  19. Bill Henderson

    This is why we homeschooled.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  20. Rich

    That dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together is NOT a theory. It's a wild a$$ guess. Things like relativity, evolution and gravity rise to the level of theories.

    March 30, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • JT

      It's not even a guess....it's factually incorrect.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Rich

      Yeah, I know. But I get a kick out of how some people still think a scientific thoery equates to a wild a$$ guess. You know, the whole "evolution is JUST a theory" shtick.

      Just my meager attempt at sly social commentary.

      March 30, 2012 at 8:25 am |
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