NYC Seeks Ban on “Dinosaur” and “Evolution” in Standardized Tests. Sam Wineburg Has a Wonderful Retort.

When CNN reported last week on the fifty words that the New York City Department of Education seeks to ban from its standardized tests, the list was discovered to include “dinosaur” and “evolution.”

Fundamentalist Christian, Orthodox Jewish, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, and Muslim children—did I leave anyone out?—are surmised by the NYC educationists to be too delicate for exposure to such words in a test situation; they might distract concentration.

At least that’s the theory.

But Brian Vitagliano, the reporter for the CNN story, after dutifully quoting the justifiers of the policy proposal, sought out a contrarian to also quote for his article, and found a really good one—Stanford University Professor, Sam Wineburg:

When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, “the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. … The Latin meaning of education is ‘to go out.’  Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.”

Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to “shield kids from these types of encounters.”  He said the goal of education is to “prepare them,” adding “this is how we dumb down public schools.”

Wineburg’s retort is a keeper, isn’t it?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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5 Responses to NYC Seeks Ban on “Dinosaur” and “Evolution” in Standardized Tests. Sam Wineburg Has a Wonderful Retort.

  1. mhasegawa says:

    I missed this story somehow. Thanks for posting it.

    It all goes to show how political correctness has swung to a far extreme and we are required to feel warm and fuzzy all the time or someone might object. I graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD a liberal arts school with a fixed course of study for everyone. I got a great education and had to read and talk about stuff that I never would have read or thought about unless I had to do so. It included things that were “offensive”, but one learns from such things. Wineburg is exactly right.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I agree that this is a ridiculous precedent—to play nicey-nice with cultic inclinations. (By cultic, I mean treating well-established facts derived from painstaking empiricism as things that can simply be blown-off epistemically.)

      Teachers, of all people, shouldn’t be reinforcing cultic modes of thought.


  2. Malcolm West says:

    Certainly education can be uncomfortable, but it should also never be taught via negativa…. at the very least, most realize it can’t be taught objectivity [that is, taught unmediated and as if without biases]. Well-established facts like: light is a wave or particle, quantum indeterminacy, and oh, what about basic electricity? Talk of lightening can sound more like an art, with a lot of mystery behind it.

    • Malcolm West says:

      What is one man’s painstaking empiricism is that same man’s blindness. That is to say: it was empirical (and a well established fact) that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So your right, good thing that was only cultic thinking… but don’t blind and bind humanity with empty explanations…. gravity was explained by it’s natural “desire” to go back down…

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      Conclusions arrived at with rigorous and painstaking empiricism (such as the fact that the earth is 4.5 billion years old; Islamic terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center; and the earth’s atmospheric temperature is increasing), even though complex in their argumentation, should be treated as facts around which interpretations and analysis then swirl. Yes, we must all qualify our claims to background knowledge—what we think we know—with the proviso that new data could overturn our present understanding. But that is very different from treating well established facts (like the Holocaust) as epistemically equivalent to faith, conspiracy theories, or creationism.

      Cultism denies the discoveries of empiricism and makes up its own facts, creating a hermetic seal around a group of people. Postmodernism, in fallaciously “deconstructing” empiricism, breeds these sorts of intellectual monsters. That’s the Orwellian 1984 model to worry about, not empiricism’s noble efforts at arriving at converging lines of evidence before giving claims assent.


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