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. Debs

    Pretty sure these same people were horrified by the lady persecuted for naming a teddy bear 'Mohammed'.

    March 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  2. Bill

    Way to go martog! Doyou mind if I print that and send it to my mother?

    March 30, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  3. Regina Falange

    I can only imagine what the punishment for teachers will be if they dare utter any of these "loaded" words...a penny in the "loaded" words jar What are we doing to ourselves besides setting up our future for failure?

    March 30, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
  4. Pandemic

    The word good should be banned from tests, because good makes me think of Good Friday, and I'm not Catholic, so that offends me.

    Seriously, do you want to kill our entire language?

    March 30, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  5. wAKE UP

    "say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory." Paleontologists and geologists being the people that know what they are talking about while those who dispute this information are taking the word of Bronze era fablists.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  6. Drew

    Hiding the truth from children just makes it harder to grasp when they are older. Don't say Grandma is dead until the child is 18.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. JW_Miami

    I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses. I am not offended by the word 'birthday', or 'Christmas', or 'Halloween'... etc. For a journalist to say so without any proof is presumptuous. Oh and I'm DEFINITELY not offended by the word 'dinosaur'. BTW JWs don't believe the earth is only 6,000 years old.

    March 30, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Anon

      You must be in the minority then, since I recall one of them telling me that Jehovah created the world 10,000 years ago.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • behensle

      10,000? You didnt talk to a Jehovah's Witness. The universe is Billions and the earth isnt far behind that. And there isnt a "Minority." All our beliefs are from the Bible and we are unified throughout the world. Thats why if i go to another country for whatever reason I will know people there, even though I havn't met them before.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Anon

      I'm an atheist, not a creationist. Of course the universe is around 13.7 billion years old and the earth is around 4.5 billion years old. Many Jehovah Witnesses are creationists.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mat

      I was raised as a Witness. And it was always explained to me that the Earth was 6000 years old. One day being a thousand years. I left years ago after I finally saw the light and figured out that everything I had been told by others, about how it was a cult that refused to allow you to question or challenge statements (partly so you would follow blindly and tune out those that knew better), was actually right.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Ex-JW Brit

      Matt, I was raised a JW too (not anymore!) and they do teach that *Adam and Eve* were created 6000 years ago but since they don't take the 6 days of creation as literal days, the others are correct in saying JWs believe the earth is billions of years old.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • leila

      JWs and its so-called "mother" organization change their doctrines every decade or so. When I was growing up, the earth was 6000 years old...now they changed their minds just like they changed their minds on other issues like the doctrine "this generation" that would be the last generation to see the end times. Their calculations are so mind boggling and utterly confusing. You know they were just making it up as they went along to cover their mistakes.

      March 30, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • ComeLetUsReason

      The Truth is that the JWs are actually correct w.r.t many things doctrinally, but sadly they are an apostasy of the Bible Students when Judge Rutherford took over. If anyone is interested in studying the Truth autonomously (i.e., without the cult theocracy of the JWs mentioned above) then the Bible Students are for you!! Take care and Lord bless. P.S. Indeed, the earth is about 6 billion yrs old (with the oldest granitic rocks in the Canadian Shield about 4.5 billions yrs old) and Adam and Eve were created approximately 6000 yrs ago. A recent article in the Journal Nature actually proves this showing that the current human population comes from a common female and male parent less than 12,000 yrs ago (based on mitochondrial DNA testing)...go figure, the Bible tells the Truth 😉

      March 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Brad

    alpha q cos u 2 sec c

    March 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  9. Kate

    It's not possible that there are children who don't know what a dinosaur is. It's just not possible.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Anon

      Blame the creationists.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  10. Caes

    The word birthday or the phrase birthday celebrations doesn't offend Jehovah's Witnesses. My parents are Witnesses and it's a personal choice whether people choose to celebrate their own birthday or not. That's like not saying the word alcohol or drinking around someone who chooses to abstain from alcohol in order not to offend them, it's ridiculous. Even more so are people who could ever be offended by the word dinosaur. If that's the word that's offending you in being used by society then you have been exposed to very censored rhetoric.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Slip

      @ CAES Its ok that you are a jamiama witness and i agree its up to people to celebrate birthday xmas and anyother holiday you can think of. I really think tho that the word but should be taken out its very very very offessive.
      P.S. Make me some blueberry waffles lol Trololololololol

      March 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Pandemic

      It's unbelievably stupid either way. Just because you don't CELEBRATE birthdays doesn't mean they don't exist.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  11. RiotGirl

    If you're a teacher, and you can't test it, that mean's you can't teach it, and if you can't teach it, it means you can't discuss it. Just a vocabulary list on test sheets? I don't think so. This goes a lot deeper than a lot of people think it does.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  12. john

    Science flies you to the Moon, Religion flies you into Building.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Sam Yaza


      copy past save

      March 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  13. Dee

    New York and California, the home of the fruits and nuts!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    March 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • george

      Greetings from Africa, thanks for the prayers!

      March 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Agnostic

      Searching for truth based of fact and evidence is very healthy. Teaching children they will burn in hell for eternity if they don’t agree with your beliefs is unhealthy.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • 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.

      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 3:20 pm |
    • Myto Senseworth

      Changes what.How many prayers for our troops, wars, illness. Show me what changed.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • JimmyRussels

      The only thing prayer helps is the way you feel. It's trying to pull order from the injustice and chaos in the world. Prayer worked? God's will. Didn't work? God's will. I'll just turn it over to someone else, and I can feel better about it now because I prayed.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • Kate

      Okay, but what does that have to do with children learning about dinosaurs?

      March 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Prayer doesn't change anything. People change things. Pray that you will learn to accept that reality some day. This doesn't mean there is no God, it just means prayer doesn't change anything. If you were born in classical Greece, you would be praying to Zeus and Apollo and Hera. If you were born in iron age Norway you would be praying to Odin and Loki and Thor. Your prayers then would be as effective as your prayers now. The first step to changing things is to change your mind and embrace reality.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things.

      March 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  15. Willow

    "It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought ... should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words." – George Orwell, 1984.

    March 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  16. God

    Since when did any of you beleive that the wisdom of the universe rested on your shoulders? None of you can even describe what brotherly love is...

    March 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • wizzzard in the sky

      It's called N-sest and gaaa.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
  17. martog

    1. You believe that the pope has personal conversations with God (that nobody else ever hears) and is infallible when speaking on matters of Church doctrine. You then wistfully ignore the fact that Church doctrine changes and that former popes therefore could not possibly have been “infallible”. Limbo, for example, was touted by pope after pope as a place where un-baptized babies who die go, until Pope Benedict XVI just eradicated it (or, more accurately, so watered it down as effectively eradicate it in a face saving way). Seems all those earlier “infallible” Popes were wrong – as they were on Adam and Eve v. evolution, heliocentricity v. egocentricity, and a host of other issues that required an amendment of official Church doctrine. You also ignore the innumerable murders, rampant corruption and other crimes committed over the centuries by your “infallible”, god-conversing popes.
    2. You reject the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours. You are blissfully (or intentionally) blind to the fact, that had you been born in another part of the World, you would be defending the local god(s) and disdaining the incorrectness of Catholic beliefs.
    3. You begrudgingly accept evolution (about a century after Darwin proved it and after accepting Genesis as literally true for about 2,000 years) and that Adam and Eve was totally made up, but then conveniently ignore that fact that your justification for Jesus dying on the cross (to save us from Original Sin) has therefore been eviscerated. Official Church literature still dictates a belief in this nonsense.
    4. You disdain native beliefs as “polytheist” and somehow “inferior” but cannot explain (i) why being polytheistic is any sillier than being monotheistic. Once you make the quantum leap into Wonderland by believing in sky-fairies, what difference does if make if you believe in one or many?; nor (ii) why Christians believe they are monotheistic, given that they believe in god, the devil, guardian angels, the holy spirit, Jesus, many demons in hell, the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, thousands of saints, all of whom apparently make Earthly appearances periodically, and all of whom inhabit their life-after-death lands with magic-sacred powers of some kind.
    5. You bemoan the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don`t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees or the 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf (or the dozen or so other slaughters condoned by the bible). You also like to look to god to for guidance in raising your children, ignoring the fact that he drowned his own – according to your Bible.
    6. You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that God impregnated Mary with himself, to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to “forgive” an ”Original Sin” that we now all know never happened.
    7. You disdain gays as sinners, but have no problem when Lot got drunk and committed father-daughter in.cest (twice) or offered his daughters to a mob to be gang ra.ped, or when Moses, time and again, offered his wife up for the “pleasures” of the Egyptians to save his own skin.
    8. You believe that your god will cause anyone who does not accept your Bronze Age stories to suffer a penalty an infinite times worse than the death penalty (burning forever in excruciating torture) simply because of their healthy skepticism, yet maintain that god “loves them”.
    9. You will totally reject any scientific breakthrough that is inconsistent with your established doctrine, unless and until it is so generally accepted as to back you into a corner. While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you of the deep inanity of your silly faith, some priest doing magic hand signals over bread and wine is enough to convince you it is thereby transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus because of the priest’s magic powers (or “sacred powers” to the extent you see a difference).
    10. You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to Lourdes, Fátima and other magic places and prayers in general. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. The remaining 99.99% failure was simply “god moving in mysterious ways”. The fact that, if you ask for something repeatedly, over and over, year after year, sooner or later that thing is bound to happen anyway, has not even occurred to you. A stopped clock is right twice a day.
    11. You accept the stories in the Bible without question, despite not having the slightest idea of who actually wrote them, how credible these people were or how long the stories were written after the alleged events they record occurred. For example, it is impossible for Moses to have written the first five books of the Old Testament, as Catholics believe. For one, they record his death and events after his death. In fact, the chance of the Bible being historically accurate in any but the broadest terms is vanishingly small.
    Heavens, I could not fit them into ten. Maybe, if they pray hard enough to their sky-fairy, the Catholics can turn them into 10

    March 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Dee

      No one wants to read your tome. I didn't get past the first sentence and I doubt anyone else will. You need to learn the art of brevity.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Ed

      Beautiful written. God is obviously made up by those who want to maintain their own stranglehold on humanity and the flock/sheep believe it.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Ed

      Dee, that is the problem. People do not want to read what goes against everything they have been brainwashed to believe. Oh I know, it's not brainwashing, it's teaching, to each their own I guess.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Jay

      To each of your points I can say the atheists did the same dumb things just by other names or causes. So, what are you saying, that we are all humanly fallible...to that I totally agree. Intellectualisms are just that...intellectual...not truth. Where does your rantings lead you? A greater truth? No...in the end it's all nonsense because tomorrow may bring a wind of social change that blows you into another intellectual rant. Get a grip, all that matters is that we stop the hating on each other crap...maybe then we'll shut up long enough to actually accept each other as we should and get our county on track!

      March 30, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • martog

      Jay, while I agree with most of your reply, I would hope that you would like to get more than just your county on track.(yea, I know it was just a typo but I had to poke fun at it). But to reply seriously.....everyone has a different idea of what 'On Track' means. I would prefer that we all get along much better, and to that end I think we could make great strides if we ALL just kept our beliefs to ourselves and stopped trying to push them, or force them, on others. Peace.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • On-task

      I think this list was supposed to be pasted into a combox for the article on 7 reasons why people leave the Catholic church. Unless, of course, "Catholic" was also one of the banned words in NYC tests.

      March 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  18. Jay

    Honestly, haven't us Americans got more to worry about than "words" that only this guy or that gal chooses to hate? Most of us understand that in America we believe in differences and even more so that God has a place in the lives of a huge majority of American lives. Words...they can either lift up our society as a whole or tear us apart...I'll let you guess whether this topic lifts or tears us down...I'm of the mind it's senseles tearing. Someone in the education system needs some "WORDS" to straighten them out on one thing...it's AS OK TO BELIEVE as it is to not...I thought we all have the RIGHT as Americans!

    March 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  19. Parent

    It is scary that this proposal would come from those who have the responsibility of educating future generations. Restricting words restricts information and ideas, both of which we need to promote, even is it is an idea that personally you may not believe in. Only in New York and California I guess.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Dee

      Do any of you vote in your local elections? evidently not, or the fruits and nuts would not be in charge.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
  20. CAPtin CAN

    I thought religion was already outlawed from schools. Now it sounds like they are using religion as an excuse to ban words from the schools.

    March 30, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Religion has never been outlawed in schools.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • TING

      Religion should be a required subject. If people knew more about religion, we would have fewer religious people.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Anon

      Comparative religious studies to be more exact, since the fanatics just want to preach their religion and screw the others.

      March 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Ting fan

      We need to teach our children that humans have created hundreds of religions. Every pocket of the globe in every era had their own. The religion lottery just happened to land on Christianity for America. Just as it landed on Islam for Afghanistan and ripping out the hearts of children to make it rain for the Azteks.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Dee

      Hell is going to be a very hot and large place. You are on your way.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • CAPtin CAN

      Good point TOM TOM. In that case IT SHOULD BE OUTLAWED or we accept all religious practices to be sanctioned by schools..

      March 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I disagree. I believe that comparative religion should be taught in school. I also believe that sacred music should be taught as well as secular music, because both are part of music history, and one can't understand the development of music without knowing sacred masterpieces. Same goes for visual arts That is part of the reason for education–to make students aware of others' beliefs and cultures. To teach about religion is not to promote belief.

      March 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
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About this blog

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.