Christmas Amongst Words Requested to Be Banned on Standardized Tests

Christmas is a controversial word. Or so says the New York City Department of Education.

Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s “request for proposal” The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education’s says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word “weed” on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use “Hurricane” or “Wildfires,” according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the “the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people.”

Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said this is the fifth year they have created such a list. He said such topics “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.”

“Dinosaurs” evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the “dinosaurs” could “call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those “fundamentalists” who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs.

Young Earth creationists, or Biblical creationists as they prefer to be called, often point to dinosaurs in making their arguments. They say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory.

At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the heart of the Young Earth Creationism movement, dinosaur models and exhibits fill the museum displays and gift shop.

Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were avoided because of faith-based concerns.

For instance, the use of the word “birthday” or the phrase “birthday celebrations” may offend Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word “birthday.”

The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, which has left many to speculate and draw their own conclusions.

Halloween may suggest paganism; divorce may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family. One phrase that may surprise many, the term “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was on the “avoid” list.

And not good news for Italians: the Department of Education also advised avoiding references to types of food, such as pepperoni, products they said “persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in.”

The Department of Education said, “This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction.”

Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg is an expert in the field of education and director of the Stanford History Education Group.

When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, “the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. … The Latin meaning if education is ‘to go out.’ Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.”

Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to “shield kids from these types of encounters.” He said the goal of education is to “prepare them,” adding “this is how we dumb down public schools”

Woodland, California Residents Complain About Christmas Lights in March

Residents of Woodland, California have taken to complaining to a local television station about neighbors who still have their Christmas lights up in March.

“Our neighbor insists on leaving his christmas lights up until now, it’s March 7,” says Jacque Young who lives in Woodland and is tired of seeing her neighbors light strands strung up on his house and on his front lawn. “He looks lazy and it detracts from our neighborhood and it’s a nice neighborhood and I love living here and I don’t like to have to see that every time I walk out of my door.”

Christmas lights didn’t seem to detract from the neighborhood during the merry season. But with spring upon us it appears to be Bah Humbug time in Woodland.

Defend has received similar reports from other areas around the country. However, in some areas residents insist the ongoing display of lights is just as appropriate now as it was at Christmas time.

“It upsets me,” said Todd Greene, of Boulder, Colorado. Greene received a request from his neighbor to take down his holiday lights. “It’s my house, it’s my lights and I like them up until the snow is gone. That’s my tradition. Most others take them down in early January around here and that’s fine with me. I put mine up in September, before the snow flies, and I take them down in May, when the snow is done. To me, that’s Christmas, where there is snow or even the chance of it. If he doesn’t like my house, don’t look at it. I’m not hurting anyone.”

Christmas lights are one of the most sensitive ongoing topics in the war on Christmas. Massive displays are criticized for the traffic they bring while some are even calling lights a religious symbol of the season, adding to their controversy. But lights on private property are always a sticky topic because they might reflect personal views that impact in public ways.

This dispute often, as it is demonstrated here, spills over into other times and seasons of the year.

Threats of Anti-Christmas Activity Surfaces Early in 2012

Over the past four weeks has received a steady stream of threats about anti-Christmas protests and activities in 2012. This is the earliest such threats have been received. The threats center around some of the most noteworthy events in the media’s declared “war on Christmas” from last year from nativity scenes on public lands in California and Texas and to Christian-themed displays in Warren, Michigan.

“We receive word of planned protests all the time,” noted Jeff Westover of My Merry, a sister site to “But what makes these notices unique is that they are coming so early in the year, they appear to be coordinated and we’re receiving them through multiple sites in our network. Someone out there wants people to know Christmas 2012 will be anything but peaceful.”

Two events seemed to dominate the season of 2011: a famous annual display in Santa Monica, California was displaced in 2011 and replaced by a largely atheist-themed holiday display. A traditional nativity scene was included in that display but it was considerably smaller and notably located far from its usual prominent spot. City officials there said the organizations behind that change either filed late or were simply picked last in a lottery that determined display placement.

Another high-profile event of 2011 was about a nativity display on a courthouse lawn in Athens, Texas where national news organizations provided coverage when thousands of Christians rallied to support the display. The Freedom from Religion Foundation lost that battle and many of the emails coming in claim they will not be denied in 2012.

“The Texas display is the one that still keeps the email flowing,” Westover confirms. “Election year politics are usually blamed for an increase in anti-Christmas sentiment and this year it will be worse because of so many anti-religious ties in the political discourse. With the President’s controversial proposals requring religious-based employers to provide abortion and contraceptive services in insurance plans the anti-religion rhetoric is at an all-time high and we expect that to carry over into Christmas in a bigger way in 2012.”