Posted by: elightkeeper | March 31, 2012

The big apple and core testing

At what point do we cross the line from reasonable to ridiculous when it comes to being politically correct?

This just in: The New York City Department of Education has proposed a ban on around 50 words for use on some city-wide standardized tests.  You can see a fairly complete list of words here.

The elimination of certain words will allegedly prevent students from being disadvantaged by experiencing negative emotions during testing.  “Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism,” writes education reporter Yoav Gonen of the New York Post.

Now seriously, people. Has the politically correct pendulum swung so far to the right that it has knocked some of us senseless? The obvious strength behind the broad use of language (over, say, using hand gestures and grunting) is the richness in words that can be drawn upon for personal expression and description.

The NYC Department of Education’s purported claim that banning these words shows sensitivity to student diversity is exactly backwards.  Diversity means tolerance for others and that includes the words that all of us use to describe our life experiences. This ill-advised decision to ban words suggests that we stick the heads of our impressionable youth in the sand and pretend that the things around them that represent the real world don’t exist.  Further, avoidance of these words sends a message to youth that these things are also not okay to talk about.

And what if we go one step further with this ban? What if the students writing the standardized tests are marked down for using these words? What if the use of these words is equated with emotional or social problems?  If you have five minutes to spare, read my Mock Student Narrative. Click on the Articles tab on this page header and you will find it there.  I have used all of the 50 words/topics they have listed.

I had gobs (oh dear, that word should be banned) of fun coming up with that little piece of writing.  The narrative isn’t all that different from something one of my English students might have written back in the day. Hopefully, it succeeds in showing what a ridiculous exercise it is trying to govern the written word.

To the NYC educrats that came up with this idea , I would advise adding two additional words to your banned list.  As an educator, I can assure you that these words are very loaded and highly inflammatory to young people. You have clearly overlooked them.

Test:  This word strikes fear in the hearts of more students than Hallowe’en, terrorism, slavery, and dinosaurs combined.

Standardized:  Here again, for most teenagers, the desire to fit in creates extreme anxiety at the best of times. Take the already alarming word “test”,  attach the dreaded  “standardized” concept to it, and the anxious teenager is now just plain terrified.

Never mind books and words. Maybe standardized tests should be banned.   Students are already deeply worried about their futures. Oh, this banning business is a slippery slope.



  1. Thanks, elighthouse, for this instructive post. You’ve highlighted how absurd and counter-productive attempts to play “language police” can be. My take on this topic though is not to rail against so-called political correctness (PC), but to encourage more discernment, reason and thoughtfulness in public discourse and policy-making.
    There are times when language changes do make sense and better reflect our evolving sensibilities and growing societal maturity. Condemning the infamous “N” word, eliminating ethnic slurs that were once used regularly in mainstream media, questioning whether a particular word or phrase fosters bigotry or incites violence: these are examples of when language changes make sense.
    The excesses of PC, on the other hand, are really just an excuse not to think more deeply about the issue (the various “zero tolerance” policies towards various behaviours in school is another classic example, as is the “three strikes and you’re out” criminal law that gave life sentences to people who stole bikes or a candy bar).
    Reactionary, draconian rules – “don’t mention ‘dinosaurs!” – are no substitute for thoughtful,reasonable discernment about critical issues such as evolving language usage. What messages are educators sending to the formative, curious minds of young people when they act without thoughtful, reflective and critical analysis?

    • Hello Dr. A. When it comes to use of language, it may be that permissiveness without discernment is as troublesome as restrictiveness without reason. Your final question, “What messages are educators sending to the formative, curious minds of young people when they act without thoughtful, reflective and critical analysis?” really gets at the heart of the matter. Are we teaching our youth to reason or react? That question can be applied to so many aspects of education. Thanks for your insightful comments. Cindy

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