The War Words

There’s crazy stuff and there’s crazy stuff, but nothing much matches the suggestion from The New York City Department of Education that the following words be removed from standardized tests.

Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological)
Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Birthday celebrations (and birthdays)
Bodily functions
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
Junk food
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Loss of employment
Nuclear weapons
Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling)
Rap Music
Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan)
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
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.

The only way I would agree with this is if they banned standardized tests altogether.
As PZ Myers says,

If an educator isn’t making a student uncomfortable, isn’t pushing his or her students to be stressed by new concepts and difficult processes, they aren’t doing their job. . . Removing any mention of the word “evolution” from the curriculum rather effectively decapitates the teaching of biology; “celebrities”, not so much, but it’s bizarre that they put that word on a par with “slavery”. How do they talk about American history without mentioning slavery?”

Some care needs to be used in how some of these words are used. I agree that it may not make sense to have a question that begins, “The Petersons take a vacation for five days in their Mercedes …” when the kind of car they drove is irrelevant. Gratuitously calling attention to wealth or poverty is a bad idea. But just banning the use of the word “poverty” sure isn’t. Just think of Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty.