Monday, April 2, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Dinosaurs, Oh My!

Dinosaurs. The New York City Department of Education has decided not to expose the children of New York to the word "dinosaurs" in standardized tests out of fear that the word might make "evoke unpleasant emotions in students." Phew. Good thing, because if we tell students about dinosaurs, they might find out about evolution. Or the fact that creationists already agree on the existence of dinosaurs.

Oh, crikey. As if teachers don't have enough to worry about. 

I had a conversation with a student today about the book The Autobiography of Malcom X. I can't assign it, because it's not PG (ish) and my elementary/middle school has a strict PG policy for films (and by extension, books). I did, however, secure permission from this particular student's parents to recommend books that I might not otherwise be allowed to recommend on our school independent reading list. This morning he mentioned that there were a lot of references to drugs at the beginning of the book, and we settled into a great discussion about the language in the book. I recalled that Rafe Esquith had specifically mentioned The Autobiography of Malcom X in the documentary The Hobart Shakespeareans as a work he reads every year with his fifth grade class in Los Angeles. I asked why his fifth grade class might not have an issue with the book while some other kids might. He thought, and said, 

"Because they already know drugs exist?"


What kind of world do we live in when people are so afraid of offending, so afraid of anything outside their experience, that entire concepts are excluded from the educational landscape?

I am not angry about the New York Department of Education's sensitivity to the feelings of creationists, and I'm not upset about the exclusion of the word "dinosaur." What I am upset about is the lack of respect for knowledge. For cultural literacy. For words. How are teachers expected to teach in a country where entire species are barred from a test because they make a few people uncomfortable? Those poor dinosaurs had to endure extinction once, must we now pretend they never existed at all for the sake of political correctness? As one of my students quipped, "the word 'math' makes me uncomfortable, and I have to take an entire COURSE on it!"

Shame on you, New York City Department of Education.


  1. That is really amazing. Because I'm fairly certain that most pricey NYC preschools cover dinosaurs just for the fun of it.

  2. Excellent point! I am all for remaining appropriate and professional, as we all are, but I am not for creating "bubbles" for our students. Unfortunately, I see many places creating extreme policies and/or cutting out information because of ONE person that is uncomfortable with it. Life is full of uncomfortable topics and situations and by avoiding them we are not allowing our students to learn how to deal with these situations after they have left the school system. I think we should encourage open and constructive learning opportunities about ALL topics.

  3. can public education work if society doesn't respect knowledge?