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.
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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.
I just read one page of comments and none of them were positive. I'll give it a shot.
I have to agree that people thrown-off by these words may not be a well-balanced person in a multi-cultural society; but if the goal is to measure reading comprehension then leaving these words out seems like a good idea! Especially if the test loses nothing by omitting them.
The people pointing to the fact that we should toughen-up and not be so sensitive are correct. However, “Is Johnny well-balanced?” and "Can Johnny read?" are very different questions. Determining the later is what standardized tests are supposed to do. The former question, is one for psychiatrists.
Punctuation can, be difficult. Often even the, humble comma is, misplaced. Yes?
@Dennis: You may have proven my point. If you had not been so distracted by my grammar you might have gotten the message: Why distract test-takers with words that carry an unintended emotional response for them? How does this affect the final results? Is that really what standardized tests are supposed to do?
Methinks you should just work on your grammar.
Lucky for you you are not taking a test!
NoName, you are exactly right. While I doubt that "dinosaur" would actually bother anyone, I agree completely with trying to design standardized tests to avoid distracting students from the subject at hand. Their purpose is to measure knowledge of the subject at hand, not to see how easily distracted a student may be.
@vbscript: Right. This is why naked people do not deliver the news – we might watch more news but we probably wouldn't understand as much of it.
If they were banning certain words from text books, that would be a completely different matter, as the purpose of a text book is to teach, not to take a timed measurement of a student's knowledge. On that note, I think timed tests (at least when the time limits are fairly restrictive) are themselves flawed. I know lots of very intelligent people read more slowly than others due to their eyesight. Tests are supposed to measure knowledge, not eyesight. I haven't seen any studies on this, but it seems to me that a majority of the most intelligent people I know need vision correction, quite likely due to the amount of time they've spent reading.
people read –> people who read
when you censure yourself, you lose your freedom of speech
Ridiculous. This is why we've become so intolerant in this country. Because tolerance is learned by being exposed to different people and points of views. We don't want to have any exposure anymore to anything that makes us uncomfortable, and soon we're an intolerant society.
I think we are already past that
The United States was designed to fight a clear and definable enemey, like the English or another Superpower like Russia. Without that, and facing a nebulous enemy like "terrorism" that fights us with ideas instead of takes and flags, we are driven insane as a culture. The insanity is starting at Ground Zero.
Tanks, not takes. I can't spell or type apparently.
I saw a comedy were the word "love" had been banned from the vocabulary for centuries, until the people knew nothing about such word. They were all test tube created. Then, one day a man came across a book in a cave about love between a man and a woman, and read it. The man became so curious about this thing called "love" that he was willing to travel back sixteen centuries to learn more about such a thing.
It's one thing for a word to become obselete, it fades out, but there,s always something to take it's place. But to just pull the word out from under us like a bad drug habit is "control." What's next? No words? No reading and writing? That should make us all feel more confortable.
Fred Flintstone does not approve of this.
Sarah Palin believes that the first automobiles really were foot powered.
Yeah let's keep factual information from our kids education and fill them full of fairytales.
You have to give New York this, they do serve as our Nation's melting pot. They even managed to find a way that both theists and atheists can agree, by presenting an idea that is just truly overtly stupid.
Yepperrr. LCD strikes again.
You can't use the pot in the school books, neither weed. You can never weed your garden again. You have to remove the unwanted vegetation.
Fred: school books != standardized tests. While I think it's bizarre that they think anyone would have a problem with the word dinosaur, the concept of making sure not to put unrelated distracting stuff on tests that are designed to measure of student's knowledge of the subject at hand does actually make sense.
And here I thought that education was where we were exposed to ideas and opinions different than our own. Afterall, isn't that how we learn? We should be teaching children how do handle these ideas, not coddling them and shielding them from anything that could possibly make them the least bit uncomfortable.
Education should do that, but that's not what standardized tests are for. Having said that, I know a lot of creationists and I don't know anyone who would be distracted or otherwise provoked to an emotional response over the word dinosaur, unless it's just because they think dinosaurs are cool.
Oh, and one more thing. My children also suffer from Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. Therefore, I demand that the Board of Education also ban any words longer than 6 letters.
I'm a student in 9th grade and I find this absolutely ridiculous. What the hell is this country going to? By the time my generation has grown up, we'll be so naive and stupid, have no culture and no world left. Oh, let's ban words because the middle aged moms feel their children might be unhappy. Oh no! My child is christian and they learned about Muslim beliefs today??? Obviously this warrants a call to the principal! All those insane moms out there that want their children to be shielded from all these ideas, screw you, you're raising the future murderers and serial killers of America. Shield them from everything, and then when they see the real world and when they don't get what they want, they go insane. They think they can do whatever the hell they want. Thank god I was raised in a family that doesn't believe in censoring. And to all the haters that are going to pick apart my rant, just try me. I don't care what you think of me because I wasn't raised to think everyone loves everyone else. America is dying, in my eyes.
I have to ask, Toby – why aren't you in school? Or are you in school (incl. home school) and somehow have the time and ability to access CNN and post comments?
hey if we keep you uneducated then we dont need to worry about you replacing us when you get older and stupid people are easier to control.
I'm on spring break, besides, even if I was in school, I wouldn't be learning anything I need to know anyway. I took my practice graduation test that Ohio mandates we take in 9th grade, passed it with ease. So what else do I need to know? I PASSED MY GRADUATION TEST IN 9TH FREAKING GRADE. Do you understand what that means? I legally know all I need to know to pass high school, yet I sit in school, learning useless crap.
You said it all. Maybe there is hope.
I doubt it. I'm one of the only people in my school that thinks like I do. The rest of them just believe whatever their over protective parents tell them.
Yeah! F freedom of speech! F other cultures! F science!
Are these people serious? When did New York become so much like Crazyfornia?
Remember everyone, personal responsibility. We are responsible for our lives, our happiness, our emotions, our shortcomings, everything... the government is not responsible for these things at the city, state, or federal level. Legislation like this is absolutely ridiculous, and it only will plunge our country into further economic crisis as we spend more and more tax payers' money on catering to the sensitivities of the few. Do I expect our citizens to change? No, but it can't hurt to put a little reason out there once in a while.
Spring break. Ah, that explains it.
I don't know anything about your graduation test, but it seems to me you have taken just one part of the test, the part that deals with what you have learned so far. I can't imagine that the test you took included information you would have learned from 10th through 12th grade as well. I'm not saying it doesn't, just that it would seem unlikely. If it does, then how would you be expected to demonstrate knowledge you haven't acquired yet?
Are you required to take the test every year, or at certain intervals? If so my guess would be that it would encompass more information the farther along you go in your education. My kids were tested at intervals to determine whether they were meeting expectations along the way. The test they took as freshmen was not the same test they took at graduation.
Exactly, I'm not offended by what anyone says or teaches me. I'm atheist, yet I still will happily go to church or any other place of warship. I like learning about all the different theories of evolution in school. The I love being able to talk to my friends in the middle of my town freely. Saying whatever the hell we want. But no, the corrupt government believes we all need to be dumbed down and stripped of our rights. I love the idea of America, but obviously it died many years ago.
Good for you, adult pretending to be a 9th grader!
And for all of you out there that think i'm an adult, shut the hell up and realize that there are smart kids out there that no how to use big words like you do. Especially like dinosuar. I think you support this article Jack.
Toby, don't pay any attention to Jackdaw – he's a 9th grader pretending to be an adult.
Haha probably true. Sorry if I went a little overboard on all of this, but I just can't stand seeing my future home destroyed by insane people. This article just made me snap.
It's good that you're concerned about your education and your future, but I would caution you against the thinking that allows you to believe you already know everything your school will teach you. I can't believe there is no value in 3 more years of education there. I will say though, that rather than focusing on what you already know, perhaps you can find a teacher or teachers who will inspire and help you to educate yourself, especially in areas where public schools don't do such a good job (I assume you're in a public school).
What enlightened me is philosophy and history. What works for you will likely be different, but the theory remains the same. Don't give up on your school, but don't allow it to limit you either.
Please remember that words are weapons. They can be anything you want it to be. You need words to reveal the truth but you can also use words to hide it. Be careful with words for they are sharper than arrows. They can also provide pleasure more than a caress.
You're such a dinosaur...get with the times
Yes, words like Obama, Pelosi, Clinton are evry sharp and hide the truth. Just terrible.
The people who are proposing this have obviously been educated beyond their own intelligence.
Good job on the irresponsible image caption. The article itself correctly pointed out that creationists have no problem over dinosaurs. The bizarre speculation of some NY Post writer hardly seems sufficient to justify saying that that was the reason it's on the list. It makes perfect sense to ban words that could conjure up emotions or other distractions from standardized tests, as the purpose of the tests are to accurately measure a student's knowledge on the subject at hand, not to see how easily distracted they are. However, it doesn't make any sense that "dinosaur" would be such a word or that it would somehow offend or distract creationists.
Correction to your post:
Dinosaurs are just one of the creationists' many problems. Facing reality and evidence is a bigger problem for them, as is rational thinking.
Correction to your post.
Being an American and allowing others to have their own beliefs regardless of how they differ from yours without making them feel inferior about their beliefs is just one of the problems non-creationists have. It is no wonder that creationists can accept others as Dennis pointed out and non-creationists can't because they are so close minded.
"creationists have no problem over dinosaurs."
Really? Except for the fact that they think dinosaurs existed 6000 years ago and died in a global flood 4000 years ago.
Yours wasn't a correction, TD. It was simply erroneous itself. If you think otherwise, present your evidence.
when will religious fundamentalists stop terrorizing our education system? it is not a good thing for a developed country like ours have one of the lowest amount of people that believe in evolution! our educational system is their to teach facts, if facts can not be taught because of religious "fundamentalists" then our country is doomed. religion has no right to effect our future! what about satanist, maybe we should ban everything that has a positive message so their kids dont get upset?
It is also there to teach the proper use of there, their and they're. Both theories, creationosm and evolution, require faith. There are facts that support both sides to a point, and then the rest comes down to what you believe. I have no issues with what yoou believe, why would you have issue with what I believe?
There are two "tu"'s' to your tutu too.
It's nice to know the Thought Police are on the job.
Looks like the NYC DOE could use some education itself. And a reality check. Just keep dumbing them down!
Please this list has little to do with the kids, or education. It is solely to prevent Law Suites by upset parents. It is better to ask the test manufacturers not to include 50 words, to avoid hundreds of hours of lawyer fees, because 1 parent got into a tizzy.
Please note that I know a lawyer with a Suite tooth. He does reel estate law and catches a lot of big fish.Suite!
This is without a doubt the stupidest thing I've ever heard in my life. Offended by the word 'dinosaur?' We don't want to upset the creationists? What about offending the millions of people who actually have some intelligence?
CNN, why do you focus this so much on the word 'dinosaur' and what creationists believe? The NYC DOE is in error on this presumption anyways.
Because CNN always posts stuff to create emotional responses rather than just accurately reporting the facts and letting people interpret them themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of people, whether they will admit it or not, like having someone else do their thinking for them, which is why MSNBC and Fox News are so popular.