NYC Dept of Ed publishes its list of 50 ‘forbidden words’

posted at 11:00 am on March 31, 2012 by Howard Portnoy

At a time when third grade teachers are assigning math problems that deal with untouchable topics like cannibalism and slavery, what’s a chief school administrator to do? If the chief school administrator is New York City Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the logical answer is to (a) overreact, (b) bowdlerize standardized tests so they have been cleansed of “upsetting” words, (c) provide a perverse belly laugh to those who follow and report on the idiocy that has come to typify contemporary American education.

The answer, of course, is (d) all of the above. CBS New York has the story:

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…. ‘Halloween’ is targeted because it suggests paganism; a ‘birthday’ might not be happy to all because it isn’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Is stupid one of the excluded words, or is it permissible for kids to learn about school?

Not everyone is on board with Walcott’s efforts to make “sure that test makers are sensitive in the development of their tests.” Sy Fliegal, spokesman for a watchdog group called the Center for Educational Innovation, counters:

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!’

I would say it depends. Other factors that need to be evaluated is which model of Mercedes it is (are we talking about the small A-class cars or one of the big gas-guzzling sedans?), why the Petersons opted against buying a General Motors vehicle, especially considering that they own a $60 billion stake in the company), where the Petersons are headed on vacation (Las Vegas, as a case in point, is strictly verboten—unless the Petersons are little publicized members of the First Family), and which adult Peterson (assuming there is a Mr. and Mrs.) bought the car (Mrs. Peterson may not feel like a “first-class citizen” unless she is the bread winner in the family).

Here, in any case, is the complete list of words that Walcott believes should be banned. Enjoy.

  • 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)
  • Celebrities
  • Children dealing with serious issues
  • Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
  • Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
  • Crime
  • Death and disease
  • Divorce
  • Evolution
  • Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
  • Gambling involving money
  • Halloween
  • Homelessness
  • Homes with swimming pools
  • Hunting
  • Junk food
  • In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
  • Loss of employment
  • Nuclear weapons
  • Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
  • Parapsychology
  • Politics
  • Pornography
  • Poverty
  • Rap Music
  • Religion
  • Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
  • Rock-and-Roll music
  • Running away
  • Sex
  • Slavery
  • Terrorism
  • Television and video games (excessive use)
  • Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
  • Vermin (rats and roaches)
  • Violence
  • War and bloodshed
  • Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
  • Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

Incidentally, I notice that one of the words on the list is pornography. The chancellor has offered no explanation for how schools will avoid including this term on standardized tests considering it is part of the middle school curriculum.

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