In it, columnist Michael Goodwin discusses the NYC Department of Education’s newly-created list of 50 taboo words, all of which are to be banned from usage on any school testing materials for grades 3-8 (I’m still can’t figure out why K-2 isn’t included).
An excerpt from the article:
The ban, which covers tests for students in third through eighth grades, is straight out of the touchy-feely self-esteem playbook. The “experts” from the social-perfection brigade are afraid the words might make some kids feel bad and screw up the tests.
However tiny the probability, that fear is enough to get the words on the blacklist. It’s the tyranny of anxiety.
“The topic could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students that might hamper their ability to take the remainder of the test in the optimal frame of mind,” the request for proposals to companies says by way of explanation. Or “the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation.” Or “the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people.”
This from a school system that promotes sex education, including how to use a condom and contraception, for kids as young as 12.
The 50 Taboo Words
Here’s the actual list:
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Cancer (and other diseases)
Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes)
Children dealing with serious issues
Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia)
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting)
Death and disease
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Gambling involving money
Homes with swimming pools
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Television and video games (excessive use)
Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters)
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.
As you can imagine, there have been some pretty heated discussions over the issue. Here are links to a few other articles related to list:
I don’t care to discuss the relative merits of various educational philosophies at this point, since education isn’t this week’s topic. I do, however, think this is a perfect example by which we can explore the way taboos are determined / formed.
So, here is my question:
Right or wrong, how did the items on this list come to be labeled as taboos?
*Photo Credit: Anthony Catalano (Creative Commons)
This week’s topic (also known as the Weekly Curiosity) is taboos. Check back each weekday at 12:34pm for a new post exploring this idea. In the meantime, here are three ways you can join the quest: