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. grainboy

    We really have to get over this phase in our social history in which every action is taken to avoid offending people. Why should anyone care if a word or statement offends someone? The real issue with language is not whether it is offensive but whether it is oppressive, like hate language. As long as language is not used as a tool for oppression, offensive language can be a good thing in that it creates a challenge to the comfortable view held by the listener.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  2. archived

    Reality Check: The world is offensive, get over it. Stop trying to coddle every single "group" who might be offended by a common, non-derogatory word like dinosaur!

    March 30, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  3. Anonymous Coward

    God forbid we "evoke unpleasant emotions in the students". We certainly don't want to prepare them for adult life where unpleasant emotions are a daily occurance.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • John

      Exactly! Our society has gone way too soft. Besides, the goal of education is to enable people to make up their own minds how they feel about things like religion, divorce, dinosaurs, etc., not to make up their minds for them by presenting only one side of issues or leave them in the dark by censoring out topics that have differing viewpoints.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  4. Dawn

    This is a joke...seriously the education systems need to focus on better things, like funding the schools so they can afford text books, not thinking about what words to use or not use. What a waste of someones time.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  5. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Dave

      Oh Horse Shi*.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  6. Chris VC

    oh yes, political correctness has made America sooooo much better.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  7. WhatNext

    In my religion the color yellow represents the evil spirits. So, I'm deeply offended by NY's blatant disregard for my views and allow yellow taxis to freely roam the streets – this is a highly traumatic experience for my children because, quite correctly, I have taught them to be afraid of anything yellow. I intend to seek financial compensation from somebody who has money!

    March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  8. tez07

    the start of "Newspeak"

    March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • tez07

      Who would of thought that it is promoted not by a Government, but by the Educational System

      March 30, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Bob

      *Pssst* the educational system is a government body

      March 30, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • tez07

      In our district they claim to be "independent"......are you suggesting they are less than honest in their forthcoming? I am shocked!

      March 30, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  9. Wyomngal

    I do not remember having certain words on tests bothering my concentration. I was concentrating on passing the test not what the words meant. This is soooooo stupid.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  10. felix_in_Mass

    The second to last paragraph in this story (which by the way is the only one worth reading) has a spelling mistake, which is kind of ironic.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  11. sijray21

    wow...this is how weak we've become as a nation. we really need to harden the &*#$ up...

    preemtive April fools joke?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  12. Josh Burdick

    I'm halfway convinced that this was an April Fools story that someone pressed "publish" on two days early. I pray that's it anyway...

    March 30, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  13. NoMoreLabels

    School is for teaching individuals knowledge in order to survive and create future change. How will this happen if we tiptoe around controversial topics? The reasoning of 'we might upset the young minds' is unacceptable.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • John Q.

      My sentiments exactly.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Primewonk

      Topics like evolution and climate change should not be "controversial". They are areas of science. The only time they are controversial is when folks who purposefully choose to be ignorant about them claim they are false.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  14. Jose

    You expect something like this from an obscure school district in Florida or Alabama, but New York? Really? Our great nation will lose its place of world preeminence and power, and we will deserve it. Shame on us.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  15. Kate

    Wow. Ok, let's ban "peanut butter", all those peanut allergies, kids might get sad. "wheat", "bread", "cake", all those kids with celiac would get sad. "black" and "white". Even if used to describe an object (car, shirt, etc.), it might be racist. Are we just going to ban all sensitive words from kids so when they grow up they say, "what is that red round object on the pizza?" "Pepper...what? I know not what you speak of."

    March 30, 2012 at 9:20 am |
    • John

      can't use pizza. it could conjure up bad memories for children who had bad acne and were called pizza-face.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Fernanda

      I never thought about the prsitrepcion being a big problem. This article assisted me in answering the question: Are all drug related problems and equal opportunity problem(s) that affect all populations the same.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  16. Anakaraya

    please tell me this was a joke.. I am usually very open minded when it comes to things which might offend some people but this is a bit over the top don't you think? And since when was "hurricane" and "wildfire" banned from Florida schools?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  17. David From PA

    What people don't know is that this question was on the test:

    "A Dinosaur bought 50 pounds of herb from the local Exorcist to perform a routine enema on his friend, the Divorced Pope. The herb costs 2,000 shrunken heads. How many Christmas Gifts and Birthday cards does Dino Bart have to sell if each costs $1.50?"

    March 30, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Amy Tannehill

      David, you ROCK!

      March 30, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  18. Realist

    Who is going to protect the kids from the NYC Department of Education?

    March 30, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  19. buffalobob

    A "few paleontologsts and geologists share the theory that the earth is only 6,000 years old". Really? Really? Can you please name ONE honest – to – goodness paleontologist or geologist that believes the earth is 6,000 years old?

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

      Not "A" few, though few.

      Reading comprehension.

      March 30, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  20. The Jackdaw

    This was the ultimate plan of the terrorists. Fighting an unseen threat; a threat that is ultimately an idea and not a united group of people, will drive a united group of people insane through the propagation of fear and paranoia. We are going insane as a culture. And the inanity through fear and paranoia started right at Ground Zero. We have already lost.

    March 30, 2012 at 9:17 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.