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. catholic engineer

    Lots of "creationists are stupid" comments on this blog. Looking up an old poem called Darwin's Mistake about how monkeys resented being compared to humans I found something quite different on a science blog. Addressing the difference between stupidist man and smartest monkey, a blogger said "You had better be careful, I see this blog popping up on creationists sites. No only for suggesting that Darwin was wrong, but that there is such a "profound discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds." Why would this discontinuity exist? A higher power perhaps...Some intelligent designer perchance? " http://www.scienceblogs.com/mixingmemory/2008/darwins_mistake.com

    Which do we prefer? Creationist "stupidity" or science dishonesty?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • S-Hug

      The "design" happens at the quantum level, and it is an ongoing evolutionary process. If we can agree that evolution and creation are one and the same, we can end this senseless bickering. If God's chosen method of creation just happens to be evolution, who are we to judge?

      We are the descendants of apes who migrated permanently to new locations with different climates, predators and sources of nutrition. Present-day apes are the descendants of apes who didn't migrate, and thus didn't need to evolve to adapt and survive. Darwin made no mistake.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • catholic engineer

      @S-HUG Survival is one thing. So is rational thought. But how did the ability to think abstractly slip into the primate? How did evolution ever produce a creature who asks "what is the ultimate meaning of life" or "Who (not what) am I?" . Also, unlike lower primates, how we did we become a species which can produce either a Ghandi or a Hitler. Darwin was okay as far as he goes. But the co-author of Darwin's theories, Alfred Russell Wallace, whom no one hears about, went much deeper into such questions.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  2. S-Hug

    Yes, dinosaurs are just a "theory," even though we keep digging up their fossils. We're finding the bones of man's evolutionary ancestors — but those must be a hoax, just like global warming. We're finding ancient stone cities under the ocean which are more than 10,000 years old. But those must have been built by aliens, since the Bible says there weren't any humans 10,000 years ago.
    I tell you, if we wiped out the ignorant half of the human population, our species might just survive.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  3. Darrin

    This is a classic example of bureaucracy gone wild. When certain professional positions are created in systems as lage as this, individuals in those positions are required to produce work in order to justify their existence and maintain those positions. Given enough time, even the most educated and reasonable mong us can come up with some pretty ridiculous ideas.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  4. Grumpy

    It's the tail wagging the dog again! The conservatives have the Tea Party and the liberals have the Politically Correct. One wants to offend everyone while the other seeks to protect everyone from being offended. Schools are for educating, not agendas.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  5. Johnnnn

    Who are the few paleontologists that think the earth in 6000 years old? Mail order degrees scientists?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  6. Drew

    Wait! Don't forget "peanut" and "peanut butter" because someone may have an allergic reaction during the test!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  7. Grumpy

    When are we going to stop letting the "tail wag the dog" in this country? Yes, we are diverse! We find great strength and creativity in our diversity! While I oppreciate the NYC school system's desire not to offend, I have to ask what about those of us who are offended that these words are going to be eliminated? More important than that, what makes these esteemed educators think that eliminating these potentially offensive words is going to imporve their educational system? Their graduates won't come out of school any better educated, but, by golly, it won't be because they were offended by these words!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. Ellyn

    Ironic to read a news story on education that has so many typos. Does that prove the point that education is failing?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • mizh

      Yep. It's called "dumbing down America". Sheesh. Now I've seen everything...

      March 30, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  9. Bob Sobek

    Do not suppose that opposition to this sort of nonsense comes only from the right . As a retired high school teacher with a strong civil libertarian viewpoint, I am bothered by censorship generally. Removing words or concepts that might offend a small number of students can stimulate the feeling in those students that they should be offended by them. A better idea would be to teach all students about Christmas,dinosaurs and global warming (I bet THAT concept was on the "forbidden" list!) as part of the required curriculum and test them on the above, both in classroom quizzing and on standardized tests.Reward the students who do well as one should in any meritocracy.One needs to carefully consider what is lost collaterally by any removal in education. A situation related to this censorship is the removal of all religious references in public schools in an overshooting effort to maintain the very much desired separation of church and state. As an example as a high school student in the 1950s, I was an atheist who enjoyed singing Christmas carols, apparently banned now in public schools.I was not only learning musical appreciation and skills, I was doing something that made me happy then , and which I remember fondly now. My liberal colleagues should not wish to remove joy from education nor should they (we) want to abandon our former support of multiculturalism by removing such cultural essentials as religious songs from the school environment.These very real losses are the collateral damage.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  10. Myto Senseworth

    From what I have see.....schools should be banned. Look at the crap they teach. Kids are learning more from TV and the web.....so what are they learning? It's not what is in the classroom.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I doubt you've been IN a school since you got your diploma.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Myto Senseworth

      @TOM TOM...IN school.......I teach at a college. What is coming OUT of school is a bunch of uneducated video game jocks.Are you one?

      March 30, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, dickfor, I'm not. Read Valerie Strauss's column in the Washington Post on why schools are failing. If you think that teachers are the problem, you should get out of your little ivory tower and go into the schools to learn something about them.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  11. Colin in Florida

    Forget everything else-how is BIRTHDAY controversial?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • haha


      March 30, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Thom


      March 30, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • junepark27


      March 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  12. David Martin

    This sums up the only problem I have at times with liberal thinkers(of which I consider myself one). They are more concerned with hurting other peoples feelings than the truth. Liberals in their pure/classic since fought against the status quo hell civil rights would probably not occur with todays liberal thinkers because they would be to afraid to hurt a old white mans feelings. Liberals should challenge beliefs and dogmas; peoples sensitivities be dammed.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"Liberals should challenge beliefs and dogmas; peoples sensitivities be dammed."

      So if a kid chooses to wear a shirt or jacket with Confederate flag on it and declares that it is just his or her Southern Heritage... should others who are sensitive to that image have their feelings also disregarded.

      Tee-Shirts that declare Lesbian or Gay Pride.... Remember the "'All The Cool Girls Are Lesbians'" teeshirt issue in the school in Massachusetts recently?

      The problem is that when we disregard others sensitivities is right about the same time that they do not go underground but come screaming to the for front.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • David Martin

      @ Mark from Middle River thank you proving my point you went right to the emotional context and bypassed the intellectual. I never had a image attack me or a word hurt me ever. Im free enough and aware enough to not let anyones ideas or believes do anything but either inspire me or have me walk away. So to be blunt you and your children if you have any need to become self aware and perhaps get some thicker skin.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      David, your the one that brought up the emotional angle, not I. When you openly say that the path forward is to disregard others feelings then you should not be blind that those same folks will react. Some might march down a street and some might march right to your front door. While it is honest and good that you have a inspired and walk away profile... it is not folks such as yourself that make history and more importantly make changes in society. Might I suggest people such as Betty Williams of Ireland or Martin Luther King Jr.

      I do feel that Political Correctness has gone nuts on this story. It has equally cut many different sides and many are more upset that their side was cut and not that all sides were cut. My issue is with your sensitivity statement. Its easy to say “peoples sensitivities be dammed” but are you ready for the consequences.

      Here is a question for you David. I am a person of Faith and I disagree with the position of Athiest but using your philosopy of “peoples sensitivities be dammed” where does that leave any dialouge or pursuit of tolerance?

      There has to be another way forward David. It starts by saying "I may disagree with you but I respect that your views are as important to you as mine are to me."

      March 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  13. Notoious BJC

    You would think that by the outrage shown just on these boards, that congress might be overreaching.

    The vast majority of people think this is nonsense. We don't cater to the few in a democracy. I'm not religious, but you can talk about your God all you want. If I don't like it, I will bow out of the conversation.

    Pepperoni? Dinosaurs?

    Loaded words are ones that are truly harmful. Ni**ger, Fa**ot, etc. Not pepperoni...

    March 30, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  14. A Buckler

    Dinosaur Dinosaur Dinosaur! Stop being so god-damned PC!

    March 30, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  15. Jeremy

    I hate having to not offend the delicate christian flowers in our society....if we dare show the universe doesnt revolve around the Earth..your a heretic...if you show evolution is real...your a heretic.its getting real old with these religious nutjobs.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • Jack

      You are an assshole. I am a "delicate christian" and I believe the world is 4.6 billion years old, that the universe was created from a singularity (albiet a divine one) and that there is life on other planets. Just because Jesus said I have to love you doesnt mean I cant think you are a bigioted d-bag.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • LOL!

      "You are an assshole. I am a "delicate christian" and I believe the world is 4.6 billion years old, that the universe was created from a singularity (albiet a divine one) and that there is life on other planets. Just because Jesus said I have to love you doesnt mean I cant think you are a bigioted d-bag."

      Don't you just love judgmental Christians who can't actually follow the teachings of their Christ.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • John J.

      Concur. Can these people deny the existence of dinosaurs?

      March 30, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  16. ForGoodOfAll

    Do home-schooled kids have to take standardized tests?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  17. comit dinosaur 9

    Look, I am sorry if me screen name offened any one. This is just ludicurous

    March 30, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  18. Sonya Jaworski

    This is why I teach and send my kids to private school. Sad that our hard earned tax dollars are going to this mollycoddling school district.

    March 30, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  19. jan

    I am surprised NY dept of education has spent time and money on that half-witted proposal in times when every resource should be used to improve schools, teachers and students. You NY'erks are paying for that crap?

    March 30, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  20. sue

    okay – on first blush this all sounds very silly and very PC. ... but think about this for a second. Standardized tests are used to judge student performance, teacher performance and school performance (I'm not discussing if they should – the fact is that right now they ARE being used this way).

    If a student has no familiarity with the term in question, then they would get it wrong – but not because they cannot read. If a student sees the word "divorce" or "cancer" or "hurricane", and they get unnecessarily distracted – what has been tested? so, while this sounds like a crazy PC proposal – in a weird way it is being designed to try and protect the kids from getting "ambushed" on a test.

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

      Precisely! And it's for MATH and ENGLISH tests, not Biology or History. If an Orthodox jewish of Muslim kid doesn't know what a pork chop is, or is revulsed by the idea of eating pork meat, would s/he be able to focus on a question as to how many pork chops you can get from a slab of ribs?

      March 30, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Evolution

      I am sorry but there are so many things wrong with this situation. First off, as it had been stated NYC is wasting precious money and time they could be using to actually improve the learning environment for the students. Second off, why are they avoiding saying certain terms that might bother others? The truth of it is, dinosaurs existed. There is proof of that.

      Lastly, I must apologize because this may seem harsh but not using certain words because students may be unfamiliar with them is just a method of justifying these actions. The tests are created so they do not judge your ability to recogonize certain terms, but the general concepts of the material (math, english, etc).

      If these tests are made to evaluate the students and teachers, instead of having the teachers or students do a better job, you are saying we should just make the tests easier, so the scores improve? What happened to the American way? Taking the best of the best? Your methodology is just saying we are ok with mediocre even if it means lowering the bar to get it.

      March 30, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Bill

      Yes, but what happens in the real world when they hear a word that may cause them distress? They have not learned to deal with it so they are not prepared to function in our society. Many of these are normal words you may hear several times a week.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Thom

      So you are suggesting that American kids these days are so sensitive and pampered that the mere use of a word will plummet them into a spiral of distraction to the point where their performance will be adversely affected? Wow. That's a real tragedy.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:15 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.