A teacher in California sent me the latest state testing guidelines and was disturbed to see the large number of forbidden topics.

I was not surprised because in 2003, I published a book called “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.” I reported that testing and textbook publishers, the federal government and state education agencies collectively adhere to a long list of banned words, topics, and graphics (Do Not Show a Rainbow! Do Not Show a Female in a Tank Top! Do Not Show the Sole of a Shoe! Do Not Show a Cow with Udders! Do Not Even Mention Sex, Poverty, Religion,Violence, War, Witches, or Evolution!)

Actually, the only new addition to the list of banned topics is “complex discussions of sports,” and I assume this was added on the assumption that boys are likely to know more about sports than girls. So the topic is gender biased.

You might well wonder what material is permissible on the state tests once all if the below has been deleted. Me too. Maybe a discussion of the healthfulness of grains and vegetables?

Here are the current guidelines, no different from what I wrote about in 2003:

“To keep the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) free from potentially biased, sensitive, or controversial content, the following topics are avoided on the examination:

“Violence (including guns, other weapons, and graphic animal violence)

“Dying, death, disease, hunger, famine

“Natural disasters with loss of life

“Drugs (including prescription drugs), alcohol, tobacco, smoking

“Junk food

“Abuse, poverty, running away


“Socio-economic advantages (e.g., video games, swimming pools, computers in the home, expensive vacations)



“Complex discussions of sports


“Evolution, prehistoric times, age of solar system, dinosaurs

“Rap music, rock concerts

“Extrasensory perception, witchcraft
Halloween, religious holidays

“Anything disrespectful, demeaning, moralistic, chauvinistic

“Children coping with adult situations or decisions; young people challenging or questioning authority

“Mention of individuals who may be associated with drug use or with advertising of substances such as cigarettes or alcohol

“Losing a job, home, or pets

“Rats, roaches, lice, spiders

Dieting, other concerns with self-image
Political issues

“Any topic that is likely to upset students and affect their performance on the rest of the test.

“It is important to note that these guidelines are applied in the context of the purpose of the test as well as the overall passage or item. For example, some topics (e.g., the socio-economic advantages) may be mentioned in a text, although an entire passage would not focus on these topics.”