NYC test ban: birthdays, Halloween, dinosaurs …

To avoid distressing students, New York City’s education officials have told test-writers to avoid references to sex, drugs or alcohol, rock ‘n roll, Christmas, Halloween, birthdays, poverty, dinosaurs, divorce, disease and more.

Fearing that certain words and topics can make students feel unpleasant, officials are requesting 50 or so words be removed from city-issued tests.

The word “dinosaur” made the hit list because dinosaurs suggest evolution which creationists might not like, WCBS 880?s Marla Diamond reported. “Halloween” is targeted because it suggests paganism; a “birthday” might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

. . . Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. “Poverty” is also on the forbidden list.

Dancing is taboo — except for ballet. Computers in the home are banned, but OK in schools or libraries.

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  1. Cranberry says:

    “So we’re not an outlier in being politically correct. This is just making sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests,” Walcott said Monday.

    Does anyone remember when people were indignant at being labeled “politically correct?”

    So, these kids are supposed to be traumatized by the sort of issues they gladly pursue in entertainment media, and post about on Facebook and Twitter? They’re such fragile flowers they can’t think about junk food while testing?

    Or maybe junk food would keep them awake, a necessary health & safety initiative. I’ve heard that it really hurts when you fall asleep from boredom, and your face hits the desk.

  2. And the ed world wonders why it gets little to no respect? Over and over again, ed professors, administrators and, sometimes teachers, make really stupid rules and/or decisions; anyone with ordinary horse sense would recognize the idiocy for what it is. Critical thinking? Not so much.

  3. GEORGE LARSON says:

    Are we banning these words to avoid student trauma? If the words are being banned from tests does it mean we are banning these subjects from school? It will be hard to teach history or biology.

    How can they teach white guilt if they cannot teach about slavery?

    It sounds as if sex education will have to be dropped too.

    If we leave out poverty, how can we teach history? Compared to the present in the past everyone was poor.

    It will be hard to teach biology without a reference to disease.

    I guess The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities will be banned from the library.

  4. Sean Mays says:

    You may not call them dice or die (especially!). They are number cubes. Well, OK, but that’s silly and only works for a d6. You can’t play AD&D with just a d6 kids!

  5. Where do you STOP banning topics? Eventually, the kids will just be handed blank sheets of paper…and not because they’re being given an essay test.

    And how do these kiddos function in the outside world, where there ARE references to dinosaurs and birthdays and disease?

  6. Michel E. Lopez says:

    Just because something offends, worries, or upsets you doesn’t mean you can’t be expected to have a rational conception of it. You shouldn’t be excused from understanding simply because you reject something.

    Indeed, that’s sort of the point of education, isn’t it? To develop a sensible, rational facility for rejecting things?

  7. And the future looks more and more like a three way crossover of ‘1984’, ‘Brave New World’, and ‘Idiocracy’ every day…

  8. The self parody would be hilarious if it weren’t 4 real.

  9. SuperSub says:

    I can see it now…on a future high school history exam…

    In the late 1930’s a disagreement started between nations around the world over real estate. Germany bullied smaller countries like Poland and France, and then Britain and Russia butted in. Japan agreed with Germany and picked a fight with the United States, which was a mistake because the US was much stronger.

    Relate the above passage to a moment in your life when you and people you know were having a disagreement.

  10. Cranberry says:


    Violence (bullied, picked a fight) <—could also fall under "crime"

    Children dealing with serious issues (a moment in your life when you and people you know were having a disagreement.)

  11. This is absolutely ridiculous. As if standardized tests did not get a bad enough reputation (and quite deservedly so); now this is what the creators of these tests are being told to focus on. We should be concerned about making standardized tests more relevant and applicable to the concepts our children are studying in school (if that is even possible). Instead, education officials spent, who knows how many countless hours, coming up with this ridiculous list of words that cannot be mentioned on these exams. Banning books, words, and concepts does not make them go away. Children need to learn how to have mature conversations about concepts and ideas that not everyone holds the same perspective on. We should be teaching how to facilitate these discussion in the classroom; not making these topics silent.

  12. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Here’s a question– Why is Ballet OK, but Tap forbidden? Some sects ban social dancing, but it seems odd to exclude other forms of ‘anti-social’ dance!

  13. Ridiculous but not new.

    Diane Ravitch has an excellent book on this subject: The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.

    Tests and textbooks are routinely reviewed by bias panels, who have long lists of unacceptable words and topics. The Language Police provides example after example of test and textbook passages that were rejected or altered.

    The rationale for such practice is that if students get upset, they won’t perform as well. If a passage has even a tiny chance of upsetting a particular group of students, then it will put them at a disadvantage.

    But then one has to ask what performance means. A pianist can perform well when there’s no audience and no music. If students perform well on tests of comprehension of bland passages, this does not mean they have any grasp of literature or history. It only means that they know how to handle bland passages.

    • The politically acceptable rationale for such practice is that if students get upset they won’t perform as well as they would if they’re not upset.

      The underlying, and politically unacceptable rationale, is a desire to roll back the clock to those golden days when public education wasn’t under unrelenting pressure to demonstrate competence and thus unrelenting pressure to measure that which the public education system exists to do.

      Ah, the good, old days when a teaching certificate was all the qualification necessary to be a teacher and the all-encompassing answer to complaints directed at the public education system was inadequate funding.

    • Cranberry says:

      There’s an unintended (?) side effect. The test makers can’t draw essays from extant works. Most great works of literature will touch on themes which aren’t “politically correct.”

      Consider “The Overcoat.” This work would touch on: violence, crime, death and disease, poverty, occult topics (ghosts), and politics. Totally unsuitable for New York City schoolchildren!

      Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Gambling. Violence. Will the horror never end?

      “Inherit the Wind:” Evolution. Politics. Loss of Employment. Religion.

      No, it’s much better to test how well they decode pablum. Classical literature’s too traumatic.

      • Lightly Seasoned says:

        I’m not saying I support it, but imagine you are a teacher in Joplin, Missouri, and the passage is about tornadoes. Your students have just lost everything, including possibly friends and family members in a tornado. How would you feel if your job hung on your students being able to suck it up and perform well on that passage?

        • Cranberry says:

          You’re arguing from the extreme exception, which doesn’t apply to New York City. Be that as it may, if any selection might be too traumatizing for particular students, it would be possible to give students a choice of passages? 3 of 5?

          In any test sitting, I would expect more students to have lost family members to cancer, crime, illness and violence, than to tornadoes. I would expect maybe 1/3 to have lived through their parents’ divorces.

          If you look at the list, really, what’s left to talk about? It’s more restrictive than polite dinner-table talk. Politics, S*x, Crime, birthdays, homes with swimming pools, religion, hunting, loss of employment, poverty… Compare the list of banned words to the most popular books for high school students listed by Renaissance Learning: The Hunger Games, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, Night. My own teenaged children and their friends were raving about John Green this weekend (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, The Fault in Our Stars).

          A larger problem is the tendency to teach to the test. The desire to teach to the test gives rise to the tendency to buy materials geared to the test. If the test materials don’t include those words, I’d bet the reading materials schools purchase will, over time, reflect that artificial restriction. So, no more Auden. No more Iliad. Really, no more literature, because it tends to be politically incorrect.

    • Sean Mays says:

      Imagine reading the original Grimm’s Fairy tails. Cinderella is pretty gruesome, and Rapunzel, that nearly gave me nightmares!

      • Lightly Seasoned says:

        Right, but you see the difference between reading it in class as a lesson and putting it on a high stakes test?

  14. Jehovah’s Witnesses reject Birthdays all holidays,Thanksgiving even benign Mother’s day.
    The Watchtower leaders want to be ‘different’ for the sake of being different.Jehovah’s Witnesses are a dysfunctional group from the get-go .
    Christmas-Jesus was not born on exactly Dec 25th,but he also did not have his *invisible* second coming in the month of October 1914,a falsehood that is the core doctrine of the Watchtower religion.

    *tell the truth don’t be afraid*–Danny Haszard

  15. Dr. Robert Marraccino says:

    Banning words ,as we are developing the core literacy standards in science, is equivalent to banning topics essential to science.

    Evolution is essential to understand all of biology and medicine. To ban the word: “dinosaurs” because it provides evidence of changing life forms over millions of years giving rise to a descence of new forms and structures of new species is wrong on several levels.
    1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholds the teaching of Evolution in public schools because it is science and restrains the teaching of concepts related to the religous doctrine associated with creationism: the notion that dinosaurs contradicts the biblical account of the age of the Earth and is fossil evidence that can prove a descence of form and structure. Therefore we are changing literacy standards to accommodate religious doctrine in public schools- I will claim that the ban is against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling and maybe an Amendment of the Constitution.

    Secondly, science is the pursuit of evidence and a Theory is a unifying statement of all proven evidence, laws, observations, inferences, collected through the scienctific method. Dinosaurs fossils have been collected, categorized, andanalyzed by scientific method to prove their authenticity, and now we can teach our kids- that with an eraser and ommission we can wipe out scientific method.

    Finally, the Mayor’s initiative to teach health through smoking bands and dieting, sex education will also be threaten by this ban since “Cancer, certain diseases, cigarettes” are also included in the ban.

    There is a clear misjudgement in enforcing this ban related to science literacy.