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War On Words: NYC Dept. Of Education Wants 50 ‘Forbidden’ Words Banned From Standardized Tests

Ohanian Confession: Okay, I don't care if George Carlin is rolling over in his grave (see reference in article below). "Forbidden words" on standardized tests is a tricky issue, one I encountered first-hand. Eons ago, when New York State decided to have a writing prompt on its state test, I worked one summer with a few other teachers for the New York State Department of Ed. Along with a state ed supervisor, we were on a committee trying to come up with writing prompts for the state test.

The theory was that, since teachers always copy test items, we should come up with prompts that would lead to good classroom practice. The list of rules of what could not be mentioned was long: And it was largely because of sensitivity to various religious and cultural group sensitivity. I don't recall "dinosaurs" being on that list, but plenty of the things mentioned in the article below were.

I was a teacher who never mentioned Christmas (but did a lot with WINTER) mainly because I thought there was already way too much hype about what should be a religious observance. But Halloween was a hard one for me to relinquish. When I taught third grade, I discussed it with Jehovah's Witness parents and we figured out a way to make it work for their son and for me and the rest of the class.

But what happened with the writing prompts our committee came up with for the New York State Department of Education was that nothing zany, fun, daring, or creative could be used.

It is kind of funny that New York forbids the use of "dancing" on standardized tests but finds "ballet" OK. Talk about the class war. Of course the penultimate is to forbid mention of all kinds of real life situations but feature talking pineapples.

And about the banning of rats, what's Dennis Walcott's position on the Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh?

Not to mention Richard Scarry's Rats Ahoy!.

In Bat and Rat the duo share their favorite things with the reader--things like riding the subway and dumpster diving in Chinatown.

What about Ratty in The Wind in the Willows and Templeton in Charlotte's Web?

And on and on and on.

Are mice okay? (say, Stuart Little). Ralph S. Mouse? Poppy? The Tale of Desperaux, with both rats and mice?

Thank god, rabbits seem ok. I'm thinking about the marvelous, stupendous The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

by Marla Diamond, CBS News

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- George Carlin is rolling over in his grave.

The New York City Department of Education is waging a war on words of sorts, and is seeking to have words they deem upsetting removed from standardized tests.

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.

Julie Lewis' family celebrates Christmas and Kwanzaa, but she told CBS 2's Emily Smith she wants her children to appreciate and learn about other holidays and celebrations.

"They're going to meet people from all walks of life and they're going to have to learn to adjust," Lewis said.

Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. "Poverty" is also on the forbidden list. That's something Sy Fliegal with the Center for Educational Innovation calls ridiculous.

"The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes. . . so what? You think our kids are going to be offended because they don't have a Mercedes? You think our kids are going to say 'I'm offended; how could they ask me a question about a Mercedes? I don't have a Mercedes!'" Fliegal said.

In a throwback to "Footloose," the word "dancing" is also taboo. However, there is good news for kids that like "ballet": The city made an exception for this form of dance.

Also banned are references to "divorce" and "disease," because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Some students think banning these words from periodic assessment tests is ridiculous.

"If you don't celebrate one thing you might have a friend that does it. So I don't see why people would find it offensive," Curtis High School Sophomore Jamella Lewis told Diamond.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the DOE is simply giving guidance to the test developers.

"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.

To which Fliegal responded: "It's all of life! I don't know how they figure out what not to put on the list. Every aspect of life is on the list."

There are banned words currently in school districts nationwide. Walcott said New York City's list is longer because its student body is so diverse.

Here is the complete list of words that could be banned:

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs

Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)

Bodily functions

Cancer (and other diseases)

Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)


Children dealing with serious issues

Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)

Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)


Death and disease



Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes

Gambling involving money



Homes with swimming pools


Junk food

In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge

Loss of employment

Nuclear weapons

Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)





Rap Music


Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)

Rock-and-Roll music

Running away




Television and video games (excessive use)

Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)

Vermin (rats and roaches)


War and bloodshed

Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)

Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

— Marla Diamond and Ohanian confession
CBS News




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