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. midwest

    Yep – let's just keep dumbing-down America. It's obvious that common sense is a scarce commodity these days!

    March 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  2. r

    Ban the word "mathematics" because it takes too long to say. Also, if you have a long name, shorten it because it takes too long to write on your paper when you take a test. In addition, ban every single question on any forms that ask for race/ethnic group.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  3. Stroud

    I am ashamed at the thought that someone would ever classify me with book burners. These people are engaging in activities that history taught us has horrible consequences. Instead of dumbing down our kids, maybe it's the teachers who have been dumbed-down. I sadly believe they haven't learned anything from the last 100 years.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  4. engineer long time

    Censorship is also good for cultists ......ur aaaa I mean religious leaders.

    March 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  5. reader

    Did I read correctly? Yeah it does say New York and NOT TEXAS! What in the world is happening?! Why are we going backwards?

    March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  6. imsuper

    Dinosaur National Monument... maybe we should change that to "WT@# National Monument"

    March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  7. engineer long time

    Censorship is useful for dictators, kings, military or any other controlling authority.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  8. tony

    what a nice waste of our tax payers money!!! you have got to be kidding me. what happened to the division of church and state? or does that only apply when we're talking about christians?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  9. Leprakawn


    "I'ts the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine..."

    March 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  10. lyrker

    I want all verbal offline use of internet acronyms banned, especially "LOL". Also, hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is a word that has GOT to go. Its length is frightening.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Coexistence is futile.

      And "pigweasel" please. That one is particularly bothersome.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  11. This Just in

    Due to the overwhelming response from intelligent readers such as you, we have decided to do away with all words. Henceforth, our tests will be using Pictographs

    From the network of 'This Just in'

    March 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Coexistence is futile.

      Some pictographs are pretty disturbing.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  12. PC police

    As one of Jehovah's Witnesses, the use of the word "Birthday," "Christmas" or "Holiday" or whatever doesn't offend me in the slightest. It doesn't offend anyone that I know of. Even jokes about going door-to-door or whatever don't really bother me.

    Please let this be clear, none of us are the ones rallying to get these words banned. Someone is going a little nuts with the political correctness. Any sane person would think this whole thing is ridiculous.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  13. skyjmpr

    Jeeeeezzz.. what a waste of time and money.

    Orwell was right.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  14. amplifo

    I was raised around a lot of different religions and cultures. I learned about them, what some do differently than others, and how to respect different walks of life. As a result, I am not a bigot today. These children, in contrast, will be raised to be bigots afraid of "those weird kids who celebrate birthdays". Ignorant P.C. b.s.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  15. fastball

    The end of the world will not come with a bang, but merely with a sigh and a whimper – as lawyers and political correctness slowly squeeze the air out of our lungs and the joy out of the world.
    After reflection – must I now apologize to those individuals who don't have asthma or other breathing issues, as my metaphor could have caused some kind of mental anguish to them?
    It makes me want to take a flamethrower to some of these idiots.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  16. Renee

    Really????!!!! No wonder our society can't cope with today! Taking out "sensitive" or "loaded words" from tests to keep kids from being distracted or because of faith based reasons? This is a society filled more and more controversy and they want to make our kids SENSITIVE and unable to cope with things that cause them DISTRACTION????? No wonder our kids are so ADD and ADHD! We allow them to be instead of trying to direct them to use their "distractions" as a way to overcome! Geez! Talk about enablers!

    March 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  17. ME

    This is retarded. Oh, wait, I mean "Special".

    Actually, I do mean RETARDED. Neither word changes my meaning - that I believe this is ridiculous to the point I suspect the intelligence of the supporters of this idea does not meet even the below average standard measurements of a normally functioning human being.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  18. Sy2502

    In my personal made up religion, "science" is a forbidden word, therefore I demand all science be eliminated from school to avoid offending my religious sensitivity.
    Oh wait, I don't need to make up my own religion, I can just be a Christian.

    March 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Renee

      I love this! Good point!

      March 30, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • Mr N.

      Really? Point me to a Christian that does not believe in science then, you know, all of the following things such as medicine, engineering (applied sciences), AND physics, chemistry, biology, (theoretica sciences), etc.

      March 30, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Gilgoredh

      No need to to descend into insulting remarks against Christians. I highly doubt that these policies are trying to be implemented by specifically Christian people, but rather by those who do not highly value the right to freedom of speech and cannot cope well with the double edged sword that results from it.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  19. GEORGE

    Where is George Carlin when we need him? There's a whole new "dirty" words act in this one...

    March 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  20. bubba

    can we stop using the word Snooki too?

    March 30, 2012 at 11:46 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.