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. Glenn Doty

    So kids get to wait until they're 18 to discover that they might be vastly different than the people around them – long after the time for them to develop coping skills has passed.

    Great plan.

    One quick point on "New Earth Creationism", the point of education is to educate. If parents are illiterate, backwards, or in any other way uneducated and uninformed, the education system is there and mandatory to make certain that children all have a basic chance at competing in the real world. If a parent was to take offense at the thought of their children being able to do simple math, would we then eliminate mathematics from the curriculum of all children? NO!

    Nor should we eliminate science from the curriculum of all children just because a few backwards zealots take offense at that.

    And for what it's worth Halloween is arguably the only holiday that we celebrate that has its roots in Christianity, but the author apparently didn't know that because that must have been too touchy of a subject for him to be educated about.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Primewonk

      A few years ago we lived in a small town that had a large population of fundamentalists. One of our teachers taught high school biology. One Spring evening he was sitting on his deck having a beer and I asked how it was going. He said he thought he was going to quit teaching. He started the (incredibly brief and watered down) unit on evolution that week. In one class, when he started, a girl (who had been homeschooled up to 9th grade) told him that he was lying. He ignored her. A bit later she again said he was lying, and that Satan was speaking through him to make the students go to hell. He told her to leave the class and report to the principal's office. 10 minutes later, the principal brought the girl back to the class, and told the teacher that he should teach what the state mandated, but that the girl was right, and evolution was a lie.

      How freaking sad can you get!

      March 30, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. Suki Barnstorm


    March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • WhatNext

      Easy. We issue a copy of all known dictionaries to the people and ask them to check off the words they don't like, then we can adopt the words that are left over. This will also create thousands of jobs developing the New Cultural Dictionary – published in all known languages of course.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  3. David E. Shepard

    I am an atheist and I am NOT in favor of this PC nonsense. Creationists, Jehovah's Witnesses and the like have marginal intellects at best and have no place influencing public policy. And "television"? "Rock "n" roll"? "Pepperoni"? Seriously? We are not protecting our children, we are making them stupider. Perhaps it's our time to go the way of the dinosaurs.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Really?

      "Marginal intellects at best"? That's laughable. Considering the ignorance it took to post such a comment, I'm going to assume your own intellect is not exactly up to par.

      But it doesn't matter, anyway, because we aren't being told who is lobbying for this change. Is it the religious organizations themselves? I'm going to go out on a limb and says that it's incredibly doubtful. In fact, I bet if we did some research, we'd find that it's one or two people with influence, trying to promote some sort of twisted agenda.

      So how about we lay off the slurs, huh?

      March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  4. advocatusdiaboli

    Let's just ban education because that's the root of the problem. People were so much more controllable when they believed everything the Church said. Sun revolves around the Earth. Happy ignorant compliant malleable serfs and peasants.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • WhatNext

      Hey, I'm a peasant but am offended by the term. Please refer to me as a proletariat, it makes it sound like my vote counts for something!

      March 30, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  5. kdf

    they might as well start banning words like Job and Work and Money and Bank and Family and Love... please...

    March 30, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  6. violinexpress

    I'm sick of this garbage. I don't care who is offended by any of these words including fundamentalists or atheists for that matter. Get a life!!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  7. Jessica

    OMG! Just how stupid can our educators be, no wonder this country is in such a mess. Kids have to learn to deal with unpleasent life experiences. It's not all roses and kitten, one has thorns the other claws. If some is offended by bithday, dinosaurs, what have you, it sounds like a personal problem to me. Now if the word was a cuss word, or a put down for the color of their skin, love choice, or something that they either can't do anything about or it's no bodys business, that is a different matter. 1984 was only a book people, lets not make is a reality!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The 'educators' aren't the ones behind this-the parents are.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  8. jdub87

    Ban "dinosaurs"? I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  9. Billy626

    banned words, haha what a joke children now a days are spoiled with comforts such as, banned words, we got our beliefs offended left and right in my day and you know what we did, dealt with it. spoiled ass brats,

    to the children of today from Billy626
    Welcome to the real world

    March 30, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  10. mom

    I think they need to remove the word 'proposal' from their proposal for a banned sensitive word list because it alludes to marriage, which is a sensitive topic for some people. They also need to remove the word 'sensitive' from their proposal because it alludes to psychological problems.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  11. Wylie

    Ban the word "education" because it might offend someone who thinks they are receiving one.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  12. Joe Public

    I hope they ban the word " POLITICIAN " that word invokes feelings of a parasite and corruption

    March 30, 2012 at 10:20 am |
  13. WhatNext

    World Education Ranking:

    Math – China #1 USA # 30
    Sciences – China #1 USA # 23
    Reading – China #1 USA # 17

    March 30, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • CSMinDC

      But the US is #1 in social engineering. Acceptance, tolerance, etc.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • ssnowak

      I don't understand how using FEWER words IMPROVES one's education. Are we going to ban certain mathematical formulas as well? Perhaps the periodic table of elements should be truncated for the sake of... Actually, tell me again why we're doing this?

      March 30, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Brian

      Don't forget a study that recently came out that showed 2 out of 3 people in America are ignorant.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Jonathan Hall

      Remember that China's status is not a true cross section, but a poll of only their top students. The US is required to test every child (no child left behind), so our status reflects that.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  14. JB

    Can we just hit the restart button and let every possible group know that something we say MIGHT offend them? In bending over backwards to avoid offending one group, you inevitably upset two or three others. No matter what you say or do, someone is probably going to get their feelings hurt. So we could walk on eggshells all the time, or just stop worrying about it altogether.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  15. Scott

    We have the remains (proof) of dinosaurs from millions and millions of years ago. We have the remains of the Egyptians from 5000 years ago. Can anyone show me the remains of Jesus or anyone in the bible? (2000 years ago)

    The USA is supposed to be the most advanced nation on the planet. We are going backwards at record pace. Watch the movie "Idiocracy" unfortunately that might be our future.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Sarah

      Your question is poorly founded upon an ignorance of Christianity. You won't find Christ's remains. The living do not leave "remains".

      March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Jonathan Hall

      Can you show me Adolf Hitler's remains? George Washington's? Ghengis Khan's? Marco Polo's?

      March 30, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Scott

      Sarah – Your reply is poorly founded upon an ignorance of Reality.

      I'm going to assume you are living. When you die you are going to leave behind remains, body, skeleton, etc. There will be evidence of your existence.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  16. matt

    Wow. Putting more American children at a disadvantage to those in the rest of the world. Nice education system.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  17. Terry

    I think that the person(s) who think up this crap should be banned. Do they sit up nights thinking about how to be dumber than they were yesterday? Why only Christmas? Why not Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. Heaven forbid, maybe even Thanksgiving? After all, we have to kill the turkeys. Come on man!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • eric

      To be fair, Christmas was not singled out. this is how it is worded
      • Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

      March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  18. Joe Bates

    These were not an issue when I was a kid in school? Why are they now?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  19. Sunnylovetts

    I'm a born again Christian hard-line unwavering creationist, Bible lover and "NEEDER".

    Ummmm, first off the word dinosaur doesn't offend creationists, we believe in dinosaurs too, sooo yeah all you people calling creations nuts BASED ON THIS ARTICLE, are of no thought. No one thinks that dinosaurs didn't exist, so stop creating false issues so you can prop up your own ego and make us look crazy.

    This is not political correctness, this is common retardation.


    I just see the fossils as being made after the flood swept away tons of living things at the time and buried it under thick layers of mud and earth and eventually it fossilized. You think it was made millions of years ago. Carbon dating isn't something very trust worthy, and I've had supernatural experiences, trust me, God is more real than you and me. There is a great deception going on right not to keep you distracted away from the LOVE OF CHRIST!

    You'll discover the truth when you leave this physical realm after you die.

    I hope you Find Christ, have a beautiful day.

    I'm not crazy just because your mind can't expand past the "nothing made everything" theory of the universe.

    Be blessed

    March 30, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Boda

      "Carbon dating isn't something very trust worthy"

      You lost any and all credibility right there. Wacko.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Primewonk

      Your problem is that you purposefully choose to be ignorant. Dinosaurs existed hundreds of millions of years ago, and died out 65 million years ago.

      There was no global flood. If there was a global flood, there would have been an observable population bottleneck in the DNA of every species on earth. There isn't. There aren't bottlenecks in any of the species that were indiginous to the middle east 4000 years ago.


      March 30, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • PrimeNumber

      I haven't been able to see a conflict between true science and genuine religion. But this would be a good place to mention an article I read awhile back. The article noted that traces of mummified flesh have been found on dinosaur bones. The implication? If the dinosaur bones were as old as some think, the mummified flesh would have disappeared long ago. Apparently, we can't separate science from the scientists. What people call scientific "fact" is often a momentary consensus among specialists in a particular field.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • palintwit

      You can always use your bible to level your trailer.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • Primewonk

      I forgot to add that I'd like to see the scientific evidence you have that shows carbon dating to not be trustworthy. And you do understand, don't you, that carbon dating is not used for fossils? The big question is if you can explain to the class why carbon dating is not used for fossils?

      March 30, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • PrimeNumber

      @Primewonk The authors of scripture were more interested in theology than scientific fact. Very probably, a massive local flood was labeled as "global" by the author of Genesis. Genesis' author was emphasizing a theological exchange between God and man in the setting of a significant flood of some significance.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • MarcTTF

      I'd say he/she lost credibility at "I'm a born again Christian hard-line unwavering creationist"

      March 30, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Glenn Doty


      First, we agree that creationists are willfully ignorant fools.

      That said, the biblical flood is referenced in nearly every religion on Earth. Many believe it to be the collapse of the Scandanavian Ice Shelf – which occurred ~10,000 BC or so. When the Ice shelf collapsed – over a very short time – the earthen wall separating the Black Sea Basin was ruptured and the Black Sea Basin was quickly flooded. Many scholars believe that this region was the first industrial agriculture society... and as the people fled the rising water (or drowned in the rising water), they scattered in all directions seeking new lands... and forming new cultures.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @Boda I'm no carbon dating expert. Apparently it's a proven tool. But I'm reminded of a case involving the Shroud of Turin. Carbon dating was used to date a frament of yarn or thread from the shroud. The results? One end of the thread was found to be 2000 years older than the other end.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Primewonk

      Primenumber wrote, " I haven't been able to see a conflict between true science and genuine religion. But this would be a good place to mention an article I read awhile back. The article noted that traces of mummified flesh have been found on dinosaur bones. The implication? If the dinosaur bones were as old as some think, the mummified flesh would have disappeared long ago. "

      You are talking about Mary Schweitzer's work. She is also an evangelical christian. She states that these findings are from 70 million years ago, not a few thousand. She did get some collagen from a previous samplethat showed a DNA link between dino's and birds. Her claim to finding soft tissue and vessels has now been refuted by numerous groups, showing that it was a bio-slime.


      Also, further an

      March 30, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Primewonk

      Primenumber wrote, "The authors of scripture were more interested in theology than scientific fact. Very probably, a massive local flood was labeled as "global" by the author of Genesis. Genesis' author was emphasizing a theological exchange between God and man in the setting of a significant flood of some significance."

      Christians, primarily fundamentalists claim that the bible is "god-breathed", meaning that the bible is literally true. Your god, in the flood story, states that he is flooding the entire earth, and he is killing everyone and everything not on the boat. There was no global flood that killed everyone or everything not on a boat.

      @ Glenn – you wrote, " That said, the biblical flood is referenced in nearly every religion on Earth."

      And that is why there was no global flood. God said he was going to kill everyone not on the boat. Since other cultures have flood myths, this shows that the christian god was either wrong, and he couldn't kill everyone else; or he lied when he claimed he had killed everyone else.

      Yes there have been large floods before. But no global floods. And the reason so many other tribes/cultures have flood stories, is because most early tribes/cultures/ societies lived near bodies of water. And bodies of water flood.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  20. Deb

    You've got to be kidding!! All this "political correctness" is going to be the ruin of America as we know it. Was this country not founded on the basis of individual freedom? One of the best features of this country is the ability of different cultures to coexist and these shortsighted reactionary bureaucrats want to legislate that out of existance. We are altering classic literature (Huckleberry Finn) to avoid hurt feelings despite the historic validity of these terms. Soon we will be back to book burnings. Big Brother is alive and well.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:14 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.