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. felix_in_Mass

    When I read that word "Wildfires" in the article, I became overwhelmed with emotions and then violently beat my wife. But it's not my fault, it's the words fault man.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Realist


      March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • UnbiaseDiinVA

      I missed it in the article, but when I read "Wildfires" in your comment I beat my dog. That darned word....

      March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  2. iEvolved

    This is slow death of US education system. US is going back to stone age when it comes to science education in public schools.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • justme18

      Are we being dumbed down or what? Give me a break, creationists, this is just plain ignorant in the face of enormous evidence of millions of years of EVOLUTION.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  3. RLA

    Mmmmmmmmmmmm! Oops...I offended those offended by muffled use of the M letter. Of course, nothing that anyone would say in any words would "get" to those coming up with this list. This is the mindset that eventually will destroy our nation and it's sanity one bit at a time. How about adding New York to the list as it now represents the location of "insanity in thinking in relation to youthful education".

    C'mon people. What has a hold of you...banning Pepperoni? O' the tyranny of it all that a child could go home at night and see a Pizza commercial on the TV and then go off the deep end. But at least they're safe in school from the "P" word.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  4. Ryan

    It would be ironic if they also want to ban 'drone' or 'robot' too. You can honestly make an argument for nearly every word. 'Noise' may offend deaf people, 'female' may offend boys, 'male' girls, 'pen' for pencil-dedicated students, 'soccer' for those who call it football, and the 'Sun' may offend moon-worshipping Druids.

    If my kids went to one of those schools I'd require them to draw a Rock n' Roll birthday hat-wearing T-Rex wielding a pepperoni stick at a hurricane amidst a wildfire that wears a shirt saying 'Boo.'

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  5. André

    I am VEGETARIAN and I oppose any reference to animals because it
    could evoke unpleasant emotions about eating them.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • leah99

      Here! Here!! Now we just need to get the vegetarians to unite.........

      March 30, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  6. The Jackdaw

    Humans are programmed to label and categorize things. This group vs. that group. Them vs. us. Label this, label that. Lists upon lists. Put things in their place and categorize. A separation of everything and everything separated. This is how we think. This is how we understand the universe. Religion offers a simplistic way to categorize things by supplying a framework that explains everything in one fell swoop. "God created everything. God created man. Man exists to serve God. Christianity (or whatever religion you are part of) is the only accurate one and all others are evil." If you take a hard line view from that perspective, and it is a perspective that is alluring due to its simplistic nature and due to the fact that it appeals to our natural way of thinking, you are forced to exclude ideas that do not easily coincide within that provided structure. You believe God created the world 6000 years ago and it is not up for debate because it is an article for faith. When the universe provides evidence to the contrary, you put your blinders on and ignore the contrary evidence. Ultimately, the only way to deal with that is to mount an attack on contrary evidence. That is what we have here. Unfortunately, limited thinking is its own kind of poison. This is the kind of thing that needs to be prevented.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  7. Chris Synfield

    So, New York has officially lost it's mind? Methinks the Apple has gone rotten........ Ban words!!!! Burn books!!!! What's nest, NY, NY – witch trials?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  8. Larry

    Amazingly enough, **** is not on the list.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  9. Grunyon

    I seriously hope this article is an early April Fool's joke.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  10. kc chill

    So who came up with this idea.A control freak! Dino's or dragons witch ever you prefer are pretty hard to dismiss as a one time reality.Especially since there are fossils.So are we really this stupid.Do we really have to allow the idea of a few conquer all.I have personally seen real skeleton's of the creatures.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Chris Synfield

      Dinosaurs died for our sins. Well, so we'd be free to sin like crazy!
      The Dumbing Down of America continues!

      March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  11. robmarton

    Nice speedwise step to crimethink. Doubleplusgood if you ask me brother.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  12. palintwit

    Sarah Palin flunked geology class when she insisted that a tectonic plate is something you put in a dishwasher.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • JRC Gainesville

      Very relevant. Just to make sure you're aware: It's no longer 2008.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • palintwit

      JRC... as long as she remains in the news, she's fair game. Besides that, she's just such a twit.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  13. larry

    thanks Zach, for giving me a good laugh to start my morning. Personaly I perfer Mattew Machanahay (or however you spell it) chasing down dinosaurs, err dragons, in england, with a tank and helicopter. I would also like to add some words to this list, creationism, fundamentlism, to name a few. Although I agree with pepperoni, gives me terrible heartburn.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  14. tacc2

    Really, dinosaurs? Really? Can't we just stop worrying all the time that we're going to offend someone with words. People really need to grow thicker skin.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:07 am |
    • Chris Synfield

      Instead we're growing thicker skulls.......some of us, anyway.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  15. JMissal

    ....and the pussification of America continues....

    March 30, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  16. Extremophil

    I would like to comment, but I'm afraid that it might offend someone.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • swaflyer

      Your comment offended me. 😉

      March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  17. Hawkeye321

    So, clearly, if a Dinosaur got Divorced on Christmas Day, kids' brains would melt.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • asd


      March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  18. Sabina


    March 30, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  19. Melissa N.

    This is the CRAZIEST thing I have ever heard in my life! What on earth?!? Where do people come up with this stuff? I come from a fundamental/evangelical family and background that does not believe in evolution, but absolutely NO ONE that I know would ever be offended by the word dinosaurs! Lol. We believe that dinosaurs existed and roamed the earth just like everyone else. Unbelievable!

    March 30, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  20. Texan

    Based on their logic, if they ban the word "pepperoni", won't they have to ban the words "beef" and "pork"? From this point forward all meat will be called CHICKEN...

    March 30, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Jules

      Now you are offending the vegans. Let's just pretend we don't eat.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Rocky

      Yes, so for using those words I am going to hit the "Report Abuse" button and have your post deleted..

      March 30, 2012 at 9:17 am |
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