By JR on Thursday, March 29, 2012
In a bizarre case of political correctness run wild, educrats have banned references to “dinosaurs,” “birthdays,” “Halloween” and dozens of other topics on city-issued tests. That’s because they fear such topics “could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students.”
Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren’t celebrated by Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism. Even “dancing’’ is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet.
The forbidden topics were recently spelled out in a request for proposals provided to companies competing to revamp city English, math, science and social-studies tests given several times a year to measure student progress.
“Some of these topics may be perfectly acceptable in other contexts but do not belong in a city- or state-wide assessment,” the request reads.
Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. Poverty is likewise on the forbidden list. Also banned are references to divorces and diseases, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.
Officials say such exclusions are normal procedure. “This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction,” said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it’s not censorship.
In fact, sensitivity guidelines recently published by a group of states creating new high-stakes exams also caution against mentioning luxuries, group dancing, junk food, homelessness or witches. Yet a comparison shows the city’s list, at 50 topics, is nearly twice as long and has fewer exceptions.
The city asks test companies to exclude “creatures from outer space,” celebrities and excessive TV and video-game use — items that are OK elsewhere.
Homes with swimming pools and computers are also unmentionables here — because of economic sensitivities — while computers in the school or in libraries are acceptable.
City officials also specified that test makers shouldn’t include items that are potentially “disrespectful to authority or authority figures,” or give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects.
Terrorism is deemed too scary. Slavery is also on the forbidden list.
Officials said there isn't an absolute ban on the items, in that they do get included on some exams on a case-by-case basis.
“The intent is to avoid giving offense or disadvantage any test takers by privileging prior knowledge,” said Robert Pondiscio, a spokesman for the Core Knowledge Foundation, an education group.
“But the irony is they’re eliminating some subjects, like junk food, holidays and popular music, that the broadest number of kids are likely to know quite a lot about.”
Columbia University Teachers College professor Deanna Kuhn said, “If the goal is to assess higher-order thinking skills, controversial topics, for example, ones that are the subject of political debate, are exactly what students should be reasoning about.”