Words, words, words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.”

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

One might debate the relative truth of these quotes, but not if you are a student in the NYC public school system, in which case you’ll never get the chance, at least if the Dept. of Ed gets its’ way.


Because both of these quotes contain “forbidden” words that the Dept. of Ed has suggested be banned from their tests.  (Of course, in my opinion, they should ditch the tests altogether, but not because of words they might or might not contain.)

Which words offend?  I’ll give you a moment to guess……

Ok, ready?

Here they are:  Sticks, stones, break my bones and sword.   (Ok, so break my bones is a phrase, but it still counts because it denotes violence.  Yes, violence.)

Any words about violence or weapons would be banned.   As would words denoting holidays, birthdays, poverty, wealth, divorce, disease, death, dinosaurs, any type of alcohol, any type of abuse, sex, witchcraft, evolution, gambling, hunting, homes with swimming pools, crime, expensive gifts, vacations,  junk food and computers. (Unless the computers are in a school or library.  Don’t ask me why.)    That’s not the complete list, but you get the idea.

Umm, have these people completely lost their minds?  (Oops, sorry.  I’m sure referencing a mental illness is on the forbidden list.)

Basically this means you could not quote from any major works of literature on any standardized test.   Or at least not in any meaningful way.   Forget Hamlet talking about Yorick (“I knew him Horatio”) while holding his skull.  Gasp!  Images that evoke death!  What if one of the children taking the test has had someone they know die?!

Macbeth’s pound of flesh?  Violence & bigotry

Romeo & Juliet’s love?  Sex, violence and death

A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Pagan rituals, sex

Crime & Punishment?  Are you kidding?  The title says it all.

Slaughterhouse Five?  This is getting worse and worse!

The Great Gatsby?  Sex, death, violence, drugs & alcohol

A Tale of Two Cities?  Poverty, crime, death, etc. etc.

I have a suggestion.  Instead of trying to remove every word that might be construed offensive by some lunatic (yes, I said lunatic) person or group, how about teaching kids the origin of those words and why they wield the power to make us laugh or cry when used with skill?   Instead of treating children as though they are made of china and are incapable of distinguishing between words on a page and their own lives, how about giving them a little credit?  How about allowing them to discuss the difficult subject matter that great stories often tackle, thereby, perhaps, giving them some insight as to how to deal with similar situations in their own lives?

Too much to ask?

Ok then.  I’d like to suggest adding the following words to the “banned” list:

1. “Cooked cabbage” because it makes me think of the smell of farts and farts are a bodily function (bodily functions are already on the proposed list of words to be banned.)

2.  ”Serendipity” because it sounds kind of sissy.

3.  ”Republican”  because I’m not one and don’t want to be reminded that they exist.

4.  ”Fish”  because I don’t want to think about how they smell.

5.  ”Dam” because it sounds like a curse word.

6.  ”Sew” because it’s in the Bible and might be seen as favoring Jews or Christians.

7.  ”Thin” because it’ll make the fat kids feel bad.

8.  ”Cheese” because it might upset vegans or people who are lactose intolerant.

9.  ”Airplane” because sometimes they crash

and finally

10. “The” because it’s too small, probably thinks a lot of itself and needs to be taken down a notch.

My list is of course a joke, but no more ridiculous than the actual list.  I’m thinking these people have a little too much time on their hands if they are spending their days coming up with this kind of stuff.

Or maybe Hamlet had it right when he said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.”


My thanks to Sarah for making me aware of this latest lunacy from our dear Department of Education!

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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One Response to Words, words, words

  1. Miriam says:

    This reminds me of what was in George Orwell’s 1984. In the story, there is a group who goes through the dictionary and removes synonyms; they choose one word saying it should suffice to express that thought. Not quite the same, but it is word police nevertheless. How sad. And to think, when I was in grade school (in the dark ages) we were encouraged to learn a new word (or ten) every day. No restrictions.