Don't mention dinosaurs: New York raises the bar for politically-correct exams


David Usborne
Thursday 29 March 2012 16:45
A b******y cake
A b******y cake

Parents of children in New York are doubtless grateful to the bureaucrats huddled at the city's Department of Education, labouring to protect them from the real world beyond the school fence. Heaven forbid that their young minds should be sullied by such notions as crime, death or birthdays.

Birthdays? Indeed, yes. This is just one of 50 words and phrases deemed inappropriate for mention in tests that pupils must sit periodically to assess their progress in English, maths, science and social studies. Including them in exam papers, the city explains, "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students".

The list of unmentionable topics, which also includes "homes with swimming pools" and "dinosaurs", was meant as a guide to private companies recently invited to offer their thoughts on how school tests might be improved. The message: any proposal you might submit should steer clear of all of the above.

Instead, it has opened the department to a blaze of ridicule for taking political correctness to new lows. "Out of the Question!" mocked the New York Post.

Apart from an element of simple censorship it is, of course, about not offending minority groups. Any reference to birthdays is forbidden because of the pain it might cause children of Jehovah's Witnesses, who don't celebrate them. Dinosaurs, meanwhile, might offend children from creationist families. And "homes with swimming pools"? That might be upsetting to families who don't have them.

"Some of these topics may be perfectly acceptable in other contexts but do not belong in a city- or state-wide assessment," the department said by way of explanation. A spokesman added: "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."

Unquestionable: Banned topics


Celebrated across the US on 31 October, Hallowe'en's links with paganism means it is one of 50 words which "could evoke unpleasant emotions" in students.


Jehovah's Witnesses could be alienated by this anniversary because they do not celebrate it. It is one of several words that students from ethnic or religious minorities may not be able to relate to, say education officials.


Along with "evolution", dinosaurs have been banned because they may offend creationists.

Homes with swimming pools

One of several topics deemed too economically sensitive for those pupils whose families are not wealthy enough to enjoy such luxuries.

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