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. rationalmind

    This is beyond dumb......Birthday is a loaded word?
    There are too many stupid people with big mouths and nothing better to do with their time. How bout get a job and sell crazy somewhere else

    March 30, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  2. Because....

    First your banning words, next your burning books. Don't make our children ignorant and stupid.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  3. Thomas B.

    Wow. We're going to allow a few hundred uneducated people dictate to us which words/phrases are acceptable? REALLY??? The language is already dumbed-down enough without more nut-jobs out there telling us what's okay and what's not. Further, just because you don't say/use a word doesn't mean those things to which the word refers don't exits. It's like, no word for 'dinosaurs' therefore they never existed. REALLY PEOPLE?
    And they're worried about little Johnny's and Janey's "unpleasant emotions"? Really? So, how long are you going to sugar-coat everything for these little ones? Keep them safe from harm in school, yes, definitely.
    But keeping them away from new vocabulary words in order to stretch their imaginations and help them to become critical thinkers of tomorrow? No way.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  4. Tdub

    Opposed to the word dinosaur? Come on people. Pull you heads out of your butts and realize that there will be opposing viewpoints to nearly every stance taken. Why wouldn't education also include information that there are other people who don't particularly agree with the topic. If I was a school administrator I'd tell the parents who complain, "This is what we teach. If you don't like it you are free to homeschool." I find this highly idiotic.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  5. sulphurmanwho

    Earth to NYC Education Department: LIFE can be "unpleasant"!!! This is out of control babying if you ask me, that will cause far more harm than any slight sliver of good. I say, fire that whole Department and get some people in their with some brains and some balls.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  6. cindyl

    Is this really what our tax payers dollars are going to? They need to stop worrying so much about the words being used on standardized tests and focus more on making sure the kids they are teaching can pass said tests.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  7. JediTrawl

    The word "Freedom" should be banned. After all, that's what is always banned in the United States of the Offended.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  8. MagnuM

    The only thing that this type of idiocy will produce is the most emo generation we could ever imagine. These emotionally-weak kids will grow up to be unsuitable to function in the real, "offensive" world.

    The acceleration of the decline of the American empire seems to shock even a pessimist like me. Thank goodness I do not live in that country!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:37 am |
  9. todd

    I find the word Obama offensive!!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • palintwit

      Don't look now Cletus but someone is trying to hotwire your tractor.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • pam


      March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  10. feuerrader24

    While we are on the topic of banning loaded words, can we ban annoying ones, too? How about Kardashian, Lohan, and Spears to start?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  11. nonredneck

    Wow, this is communism in action. The suppression and change of the language is straight from 1984!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:34 am |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Jesus

      ~~~You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      Plus don't forget. The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.!

      March 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  13. Dee

    Liberal NUTS!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Chris

      You're joking right? This is clearly fundamentalist, creationist.... conservative

      March 30, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. mrpopular

    Major eye-roll! Oh, to be delivered from idiots.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  15. Luis Velazquez

    to lack of respect to an Almighty God has given "freedom" to feel offended to everybody

    March 30, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Primewonk

      Which god? We've invented tens of thousands of gods. Yours is no more, nor no less, special or real than any of the others.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  16. JFritz

    I am offended by the word "creationist." The words called for are "bilblical literalists." It is possible to believe that some intelligence created the known world without adhering to biblical myths. In any event, why are public schools, which theoretically belong to both believers and non-believers, held hostage to the fundamentalist fringe?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • mrpopular

      It sounds like the non-believers are coming up with this ridicu-list.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Sarah

      Fine, I'll join the world of the off-ened, too. Am I disqualified because of my faith? I am offended that my children will be forced to learn something that is in reality, theory being taught has fact. In Tennessee where I live, our Governor is having to review whether to pass a bill which allows students to challenge and critisize the doctrine (that's what it is) being stuffed down their throats in the classroom. For now, they are allowed to say nothing, and do nothing else but fall into the assembly line. Pink Floyd's music video from "The Wall" comes to mind.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Primewonk

      @ Sarah – you wrote, " I am offended that my children will be forced to learn something that is in reality, theory being taught has fact."

      This statement cuts to the heart of the matter. It shows that you have chosen to be ignorant about the scientific method in general, and biology in particular.

      Evolution, just like gravity is both fact and theory. Theories exist to explain sets of facts and laws. Evolution happens. We see it every day. We have literally mountains of facts to support evolution. The theory of evolution explains the mechanisms by which evolution works.

      You also wrote, " In Tennessee where I live, our Governor is having to review whether to pass a bill which allows students to challenge and critisize the doctrine (that's what it is) being stuffed down their throats in the classroom."

      If students want to challenge a valid scientific theory, fine. But that challenge has to be grounded in science. Simply claiming "goddidit" or "poof, then another miracle occurs", is not a valid challenge.

      So far there is one valid confirmed theory to explain the diversification of life on earth. And that is the theory of evolution. Afteer 150+ years not one single solitary creationist fundiot has published either an alternative theory, or falsified the actul theory. Not one. Ever.


      March 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  17. Sprite1_1

    The world has gone mad.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  18. PeteH

    This is stupid.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  19. Maddie

    Get used to it folks! The American Taliban and Mullah Santorum want to turn the US into a theocracy and give Opus Dei an office in the White House. Better wake up soon, or the smoke from the heretic burnings will choke us all.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Bob

      I think people like you are the problem.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Sarah

      Maddie -

      If you really believe that, then you haven't been paying attention.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  20. Billmeno

    When will the Department of Education join the real world.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • bandgeek1

      A better question would be "when was the Department of Education ever in the real world?" As a teacher for 27 years, I can safely say that reality has no bearing on what goes on in the higher rungs of the U.S. education system. Most educational bureaucrats haven't set foot in a classroom as a teacher for 20 years. They sit in their ivory towers and write articles other ivory tower dwellers read and take as gospel from on high. Teachers in the trenches aren't allowed to teach the material unless it's going to be on the state test. God forbid we should ever ask the little darlings to have an independent thought or be brought up short by receiving a sub-par grade.

      16 marking periods and I'm out!

      March 30, 2012 at 11:41 am |
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