Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Opinion

News Opinion

These banned words are ...

Warning: This column contains language some readers may find unsuitable for children. Parental guidance is suggested.

No, seriously, you have been warned. This is your last chance. Turn back now.

Still here? OK, fine. Don't say you weren't told. Here's one of the offensive words:

"Dinosaur."

And another:

"Birthday."

And another:

"Pepperoni."

And yes, yet another:

"Dancing."

Let's stop there before you have to fan away the vapors and break out the smelling salts. Or maybe you don't find those words offensive. Maybe you use such language around kids all the time. Well, that tells us something about you.

It tells us you are not a member of the New York City Department of Education. It seems the department has sent to companies bidding to revamp the city's standardized tests a list of words and topics they do not want those tests to contain. The reason: Those words and topics might make children uncomfortable. Or, as a spokeswoman for the education department told the New York Post, which broke the story last week, banning those words "allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."

So how are those words a "distraction?" Well, let's look at the list.

"Dinosaur?" Not everyone accepts the theory of evolution.

"Birthday?" Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate them.

"Pepperoni?" Junk food. That stuff'll kill ya.

"Dancing?" Didn't you see "Footloose"?

The full list is said to contain 50 objectionable words and topics, which also includes: "Halloween" (too pagan), "divorce" (upsetting to the child whose parents have split), "disease" (upsetting to the child whose Nana has taken ill), "home computers" (not everyone can afford such luxuries), "terrorism" (scary), "slavery" (bad) and space aliens (sorry, Superman). In its defense, New York issued a statement saying that other school systems also have banned words lists. It says Florida bans the word "hurricane" and California bans the word "weed" (insert stoner joke here).

This comes as news to Florida and California. Spokespersons for education departments in both states told me that, while they do seek cultural sensitivity in their testing, they maintain no lists of specifically banned words.

Surely, no one objects to reasonable attempts to be sensitive to and inclusive of those marginalized by culture, class, religion, race or what have you. But this list suggests just the sort of liberal overreach and politically correct contortions that give sensitivity a bad name.

Is it really the educators' belief that children can -- or should -- be shielded from every unpleasant, unhealthy or controversial reality of life? Or that they will fall to pieces if exposed to same?

Rather than shield the fundamentalist kid from the fact that not everybody believes God created the world in a week, rather than shield the poor kid from the fact that some people have computers at home, rather than shield the vegan kid from the fact that some people eat pepperoni pizzas, is it not more important to teach them to navigate a world of tumult where not everybody believes or behaves as you do? Isn't that part of what education is for?

But then, America long ago forgot what education is for -- a fact you can illustrate for yourself by scanning test scores, reading an online message board or stopping five people on the street to ask them when the War of 1812 was fought. It is telling that, as we slide toward intellectual mediocrity, our greatest city busies itself trying to keep kids from being exposed to such troubling concepts as birthdays and dinosaurs.

Thank goodness New York didn't ban the word "duh." I'm thinking our kids are going to use that one quite a bit.

Leonard Pitts is a syndicated columnist. His email is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts

    Chavis Carter case raises troubling doubts

    It would be easier to buy the theory that he committed suicide if not for the terrible history of police violence against blacks

  • Hogan's softer road

    Hogan's softer road

    Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan essentially wrapped up the 2015 legislative calendar by deciding the fate of some of the more controversial bills passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. While one can debate the merits of some of his individual choices — whether to veto, sign or embrace the...

  • Sex among the ruins

    Sex among the ruins

    Netflix must know something nobody else does because they created a show about old people having sex.

  • Where it was made matters

    Where it was made matters

    She walked slowly up the aisle, picking up every single blender on the shelf in Sears. Holiday music played joyfully in the background. "It's all made in China," she said, gently returning the box to the shelf. Disappointment flashed across her face as she slowly moved on to the next box.

  • Traffic blocking protesters [Poll]

    Traffic blocking protesters [Poll]

    Should police have arrested the protesters who blocked traffic for more than an hour on Interstate 395 in Baltimore Tuesday morning?

  • The disintegration of us-vs.-them politics

    The disintegration of us-vs.-them politics

    For all the decades of its existence, American social conservatism has been rooted in a premise simple enough to be fully expressed in just three words:

  • Baltimore is not Cleveland

    Baltimore is not Cleveland

    If there was one incident that was the catalyst for the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of Cleveland police's practices and the consent decree officials announced there, it was a massive display of police force. A car backfired while driving past a police station, and officers, thinking...

  • A misguided protest

    A misguided protest

    Commuters driving into Baltimore from the south today were understandably chagrined to find themselves stuck in unusually heavy traffic that extended from the beltway all the way into downtown. The cause? A demonstration led by the Rev. Jamal Bryant that blocked the city's major arteries in protest...

Comments
Loading

82°