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Banning Controversial Words on Tests: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

by Jennifer Kwasnicki Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:48:00 PM
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Banning Controversial Words on Tests: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?There are a number of words in my house that I don't say because little ears are listening (usually ones that I have to stifle when I stub my toe or burn dinner). But, I skip these words because they are actually bad words. I can't imagine forbidding the use of words related to religious holidays, evolution, or other "controversial" topics. So, when I read this article regarding the New York City Department of Education's banning of words used by school test developers, I was a little thrown.

In an attempt to avoid topics that could make students feel "uncomfortable," approximately 50 words were put on the chopping block. Words, such as "dinosaur" (which might imply evolution), "birthdays" (which are not celebrated by all religions), "Halloween" (which could suggest paganism), and "crime" (which is just plain unpleasant) are a few of the casualties. The list also instructed that tests not mention bodily functions, diseases, natural disasters, celebrities, divorce, politics, homelessness, or even rock-and-roll music.

It makes you wonder if education policymakers are under the impression that by simply eliminating words, and trying to avoid topics of importance or that may incite an opinion or a feeling, tough or controversial issues will just go away. Especially in a place like New York City, which is packed with cultural, socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic diversity, you'd think that teaching children to embrace differences and understand societal issues would be a good thing.

I mean, does forbidding tests from referring to homes with swimming pools (I kid you not, this is on the list) because some kids don't have a pool make sense? I'm not really connecting the dots on that one. That would be like saying no one can talk about puppies in our house, just because we're not going to get one.

And, while I admit that I sometimes dread the questions that can arise from awkward topics (such as, "Mom, where do babies come from?"), generally I am thrilled that my kids are curious about the world. Even if that sometime means discussing unpleasant things.

I don't want my kids to grow up under a rock, because they might be upset or offended. I want them to grow up with an awareness of the world around them, and the challenges and differences within today's society. Otherwise, how can they go on to succeed in college or university? How can they grow up to play a positive role in their community? Where would the next generation of advocates for social issues, or doctors curing diseases come from, if they were taught to avoid messy subjects? Sheltering today's youth will only create oversensitive adults who don't know how to deal with important issues.

And, apparently I’m not the only person that holds this opinion. Overwhelming parent reaction to this list has led to a reversal by the NYC Department of Education. Good for these parents for standing up for their children's right to be aware of the world around them and not to be sheltered from anything that might evoke an unpleasant feeling.

So, bring on the uncomfortable topics! If it means better preparing students to go out into the world primed for the life in the real world (where birthdays, crime, and rock-and-roll really do exist), isn't that in their best interest?

Comments (2) -

4/10/2012 1:30:19 PM #

If they want to discourage learning and promote ignorance in ideas and people that might be different from them they're certainly headed in the right direction.

4/10/2012 1:59:36 PM #

Just what the world needs: more taboos. That anyone today could actually think that banning words or ideas (on a test or anything else) could prevent kids from bad feelings is beyond insane. What world are these people trying to prepare children for? It sure isn't this one. Kids are learning "bad" words at an earlier and earlier age. Short of locking them away 1,000 feet underground in individual bubbles, there is little anyone can do to keep kids away from ideas that might cause them (or their parents, more likely) offense. Educators playing pretend can only result in confused, naive students. Thankfully, they scrapped the idea (for now). Great post Jen!

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