British primary school prevents kids from watching eclipse because it might offend their faith

March 21, 2015 • 3:40 pm

Speaking of religion in Britain, here is some news that’s been widely reported on secular sites, so I won’t dwell on it long. But it does show how ridiculous the British school system is when it comes to religion. Not only are there faith-based schools—an offense to an enlightened democracy—but there are also state-run “council” schools like North Primary School, in Southall, that do ridiculous things to coddle believers. In this case, the school banned its kids from watching yesterday’s solar eclipse—on religious grounds! The Torygraph reports:

A London primary school was criticised for banning children from watching the eclipse for “religious and cultural reasons.”

Pupils at North Primary School in Southall were stopped from watching the solareclipse directly and had to observe it on screens instead.

Sometimes known as Little India, Southall is a diverse community in west London with a large Hindi population.

Although headteacher Ivor Johnstone would not comment on what the ‘religious and cultural’ reasons were, some Hindu scriptures say that an eclipse makes believers impure.

And fundamentalists believe that they need to bathe immediately after an eclipse and chant the name of God to overcome the forces of darkness.

. . . [The head teacher] Mr Johnstone, said: “The school made this decision when we became aware of religious and cultural concerns associated with observing an eclipse directly.

“Although we are sorry for any disappointment, pupils were still able to watch the eclipse on screens in classrooms.

“However, the overcast conditions in West London today meant they would not have been able to see it live in any case.”

Yeah, isn’t Johnstone lucky that it was overcast? Needless to say, some non-Hindu parents were upset. I have bolded the funny (and sad) bit below:

Phil Belman, whose seven year old daughter goes to the school, told The Evening Standard: “I am extremely upset about it.

“My child went in having spent an hour preparing and making up her pinhole camera. This is an issue about scientific matters versus religious superstition.

“I am outraged – is it going to be Darwin next? We will be like mid America.”

No, not mid America: southern America (and a lot of other places as well). But this is still outrageous. It really irks me that a 7 year old girl gets all set to learn some science, and then gets told that she can’t watch the eclipse on her pinhole camera. Total eclipses don’t happen all that often.

Come on, you Britons, stop your schools from pulling this kind of crap, and get rid of those faith schools!


h/t: Grania, Frits

81 thoughts on “British primary school prevents kids from watching eclipse because it might offend their faith

  1. Jesus Christ! Anybody who takes seriously that kind of bullshit is in desperate need of being profoundly offended. I’m thinking Clockwork Orange-style eyes-forced-open observation of the eclipse might even be in order — though, of course, with appropriate optical protection to prevent eye damage.


  2. “Religious and cultural reasons” at least makes a change from the usual appeal to Elf’in Safety. Got to look out for those Elves!

    1. I suspect it really was Health and Safety. There’d be hell to pay if a teacher took a class out to watch the eclipse through English haze, the clouds parted and the class was blinded. I don’t trust the UK press not to turn any issue at all into politicalcorrectnessgonemad whenever they possibly can.

  3. . . . [The head teacher] Mr Johnstone, said: “The school made this decision when we became aware of religious and cultural concerns associated with observing an eclipse directly.

    I vaguely remember that when I was a kid we weren’t allowed to go out and view an eclipse directly because the school didn’t trust the lower grades to refrain from viewing the eclipse directly — as in looking right at the sun and going blind or something. It was a safety concern. I don’t remember if we went out to view it or not when we got older. The “danger” warnings stick in my mind from when I was 5 or 6.

    “We will be like mid America.

    No, not mid America: southern America (and a lot of other places as well).

    This being someone in the UK, maybe he meant the United States, which is in the middle of the American continents.

    1. I remember doing the pinhole projection trick at school, though I wouldn’t even pretend to guess how old I was. It was accompanied by lots of dire warnings about looking at the Sun. I would imagine the teachers were keeping an eye out for kids looking up.

      If you’re in a school and you can’t effectively teach the kids about the dangers of staring at the Sun…you are so seriously in the worng line of business it’s not funny. What next, getting rid of school busses because you’re afraid some kid might be stupid enough to play in the street?


      1. But these days the safety protocols are probably much more strict. The level of paranoia about litigation is much higher than it used to be.

          1. I’m really really glad I’m retiring in 3 months time. The H&S bullshit at work is reaching ludicrous levels. And it’s like religion – it’s taboo to question it.

      2. In some (if not all) states legislatures make teachers legally liable as if they were parents. The phrase is “in loco parentis.” I dare say parents themselves many times don’t comport to that standard, yet expect teachers to. I anticipate that this standard will eventually be imposed on university professors and other staff, as the dumbing down and juvenilization of college students continues apace.

        Some adults don’t look both ways when crossing at crosswalks or at crowded shopping centers. Such is life in the Land of Entitled Individualism.

        Sometimes one has to borderline yell at K-12 (especially middle school students) to get their bloody attention. I’m speaking from several years experience. (I’m only half-way joking when I say it sometimes takes calling out “candy” and “money” to get their attention, such is the materialistic, consumerist mindset they have acquired from parents and culture.)

        Anyone is welcome to specifically show teachers how to better get the attention of students in this increasingly attention-deficited Amuricun mass pop culture. The Mitt Romneys, Newt Gingriches and Arne Duncans and other power mavens of the world need to darken classroom doors to show us how to manage immature and legally irresponsible human primates. “Firing” students is not a “classroom management” option.

    2. In Sweden “mid America” refers to the middle portion, which many think of as the rural parts.

      1. Oops, I’m tired, I confused “mid Western” with “mid America”. The latter is a reference to Latin America.

    3. Yeah we were kept in at recess during an eclipse and the curtains were closed even though the sun couldn’t be viewed from the windows anyway. I susoect they feared a parent would sue.

      I have a strong memory of an ass of a teacher I had who wouldn’t let us go outside to see the space shuttle flying over. Granted,new probably wouldn’t have seen anything but he had to chastise all of us and say, “Doing math is much more important than watching something like a space shuttle” (his words dripping in disdain). Yeah, um you didn’t destroy my love of science but you didn’t exactly help me stop hating math, you asshat!

      1. My teachers also wouldn’t let me go out to see the space shuttle. The heinousness of this was mitigated by the fact that it was the 1960’s at the time.

    4. Re ‘Mid America’
      I think Brits think of the US in terms of east coast, west coast amd the nutty bit in the middle. We think less in terms of north and south (north is Canada and Mexico is south).

      1. There are difficulties in terminology mostly caused by the conflation of “USA” with “America”. USAnians can say “The South” and everyone knows what it means, but if us furriners say “South America” that’s obviously wrong. “The American South” is probably the nearest we can get to it.

      2. Most us Americans divide the country into 4 distinct regions. West, Midwest, South and Northeast (or ‘New England’ depending on where you live).

        1. And bear in mind that South only goes halfway across the south and the Midwest is nowhere near “mid.”

          Sorry, Ben, you’re just subsumed into the West. Elsewise I get to make a claim for the Pacific NW.

  4. Headteacher Johnstone is scared by religion and by what the religious might do to him if he did not obey the rules of the religion he doesn’t belong to. Obviously, secular parents are less scary. Perhaps we humanists should also abduct someone or detonate a car somewhere. Perhaps then we can have the same respect that religion has!

    1. Perhaps we humanists should also abduct someone or detonate a car somewhere.

      Nah…doesn’t set the right tone. Maybe we could just have a nice bake sale, instead? Or — I know! Spaghetti dinner, in homage to the Pastafarians!


      1. We should do what all good militant extremist atheists do at our worse… make jokes on the internet.

            1. Lawrence Krauss has a t-shirt that reads “2+2=5 for extremely large values of 2” I never quite understood what he meant by that.

              1. There is no expectation in Britain that in upsetting Hindu sensibility you can expect violence. The Headteacher’s decision more reflects the endemic British tendency among liberals automatically to privilege religion over science. And that is why, in a way, this is even more worrying.

                Judging by its website, the school is just a normal state-run school. But this, from its prospectus, which in my quick search is the only sanction which the Head could quote for his decision:

                At North Primary School we follow the London Borough of Ealing’s agreed syllabus for Religious Education. Children learn about all the major world religions and are taught to respect and value the beliefs of others.

                My embolden.

                Respect, yes. Value? No. That’s a value judgement which pre-empts and contradicts the necessity for critical thinking (not in the Dover case ID sense!).

                Unless, there is something sinister among the Hindu parents of Southall, I suspect this is a thoroughly daft Headteacher. But I would guess that the system – the existence of faith schools, the fact of state-run schools of cultural, racial, class or faith homogeneity – encourages the spread of Heads who think in this way.

                On a personal note, whenever I read of a similar story which happens in the U.S. on WEIT, I tend to extract the urine. And I notice that the North Americans are having a good laugh at this. I find it hard, as a Brit, to do that about this British story. Just goes to show, the closer it is to home, the less funny it is. Or maybe I’m just getting old. x

              2. Well, if you use 2.5 for your value of 2 — which, I think we can all agree, is an extremely large value of 2 — then the equation is true. The problem, of course, is that 2.5 isn’t actually the value of 2.

                Similarly, Christians would have you believe that one YHWH plus one Jesus plus one Casper equals one god, not three — even though the ancient Pagans and Hindus would quite disagree with them. For Christians, 1 + 1 + 1 = 1, for sufficiently small values of 1…only, they’re being absolutely serious about it whereas Lawrence is merely expressing his mathematical sense of humor.


              3. I love that as a tagline. “2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently large values of 2”.

                The joke is that it refers to “2” as if it were a variable, whereas it is in fact a constant.

                You can, however, do it on a spreadsheet – just set the cell format to zero decimals (so it hides numbers after the decimal point) then add 2.6 and 2.6…

              4. … a sort of mathematical equivalent of “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

  5. The absolute bat-shit crazy part of it, to me, is the fact that they were going to allow the students to watch it on TV screens, but not outside. What? Does it being shown on TV somehow filter out the “impurifying” influences?

        1. If the kids were using pinhole cameras, then they wouldn’t have been observing it directly anyway. The school just should have given the Hindus an exemption and not ruined it for everybody else.

          Speaking of Hindus–on the website of the Hare Krishna movement, I once saw an essay “proving” that the moon landings were fake. According to ancient Sanskrit scrolls (or something), the moon is farther from the Earth than the sun is, and it would be too far to travel to. The essay said something like, “Of course, you have heard that the moon is closer than the sun, but this is just a theory invented by unbelieving scientists. WE know the truth because we have these ancient scrolls dictated by people who were closer to God.” I don’t know how common this belief is among Hindus, but I wonder if they’ll start agitating for it to be taught in schools.

    1. Yes, because the religious feel all twitchy if they don’t impose their religious “sensibilities” on everyone else. From forcing prayers to separating the sexes to stopping Halloween, they are the fun spoilers and party poopers of the secular world.

    2. Just because a child doesn’t believe the darkness will stick to her doesn’t mean that she should be allowed to be exposed to the dark and then bring it inside where the believers’s kids are hiding and contaminate them.

      1. No, Johnnie, it’s not darkness, it’s dark air, as Flann O’Brien said. Light air, good: dark air, bad, as Orwell nearly said. x

    3. Did any Hindu parents in fact object, or was it some excessively PC teacher being ‘pro-active’?

  6. This makes no damn sense! In series 1, episode 1 of Wonders of the Solar System, Brian Cox specifically goes TO India (Varanasi) to view a solar eclipse, and what happens? Do the people freak out, scream, cry, or do anything else stupid or fearful? Nope. They applaud. They cheer. It’s really quite beautiful, emotional, and moving.

    Even my crappy midwestern, bar-lowering, anti-intellectual, barely educated, football-obsessed, exurban school allowed us to view an eclipse, 1994 I think. We had all sorts for viewing, cheap paper glasses, pinhole cameras, welding goggles, and so on. It was wonderful, and not one pupil was made impure! (well, I was already having plenty of impure thoughts, but hey, I was a teen, I didn’t need a solar event, hell, I didn’t even need to be awake!)

    go view that clip of Wonders of the Solar System, it’s probably on youtube somewhere, it’s definitely on Hulu, where I watched it. It’ll take the disgust out of your mouth for a few minutes, might make you well up a bit inside, like it did me.

      1. Yeah, they were lined up along the river, some in the river, and at least one old lady was praying, but i’m sure the kids could have prayed and then gone to wash their hands or something. Didn’t seem like all of them were there for religious reasons, but either way, they were allowed to view it, even in such a hyper-religious country as India unfortunately is.

      2. If they applaud the sunset in Key West, why not an eclipse in Varanasi, which is much rarer? I plan to see the US eclipse of August 21, 2017, and won’t be a bit surprised if I am moved to clap. That might silence the people who are Praisin’ the Lawd.

    1. no, worse is Alabama in Sussex! then again, is there really that much difference between Jersey Shore and Geordi Shore? And about Essex…Well, I guess the UK and US are nuts from the same tree.

  7. The single most effective change Britain could make with regards to diminishing the widening cultural schism between many Muslims and the rest of the populace would be to junk faith schools. It’s the only vaguely practical measure I can think of that would seriously improve the situation. Other ideas are either just tinkering around the edges or too vague and idealistic.

    I can see that it’s inconceivable at the moment – politically speaking it’s not even up for discussion – but if things get too bad in the future it might be possible to sell the public on it.

    And if that particular domino falls we might even have a shot at abolishing private and free schools as well, and the ability to buy a future for your offspring if you’re rich enough will be mightily curtailed.

    I can dream.

  8. I think he drew a line down from North to South starting at N. Dakota (S. Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas). There’s a lot of batshit crazy there, as well as in the South.

  9. Interesting juxtaposition of this post and the one immediately preceding it. Perhaps the BBC decline dot report this for fear of contradicting themselves

  10. I am very curious to see how the United States responds to the great total eclipse coming up in August 2017, which will be the first observable from the lower 48 states since 1979. With a generation having passed since the last one, will most American watch it, or ignore it? How many crazies will come out of the woodwork and see it as a sign of Judgment Day approaching?

    The path of totality will run from Oregon to South Carolina.

    1. I’m already trying to make the decision of staying home and only seeing 96% obscuration, or getting up very early and driving for 2.5-3 hours so I can view totality for 1.5 minutes without eye protection. I’m leaning toward sleeping in.

      1. No no–make the drive. A total solar eclipse is a unique and beautiful experience. Reflect too on how lucky we are to live on a planet with this improbable sun-moon geometry. If faster-than-light travel were possible, Earth would be a tourist destination for the whole galaxy.

        And do bring protection: there are numerous phenomena before and after totality that shouldn’t be missed.

        BTW, minor nit. I don’t think the British kids were deprived of a total eclipse. If I remember the path correctly, they were too far south. It was partial here in Munich as well, and trust me: if it ain’t total, it ain’t that big a deal.

        1. I might make the drive, and I will certainly try to convince my kids who haven’t seen a total eclipse to do so. But I did see the 1979 total eclipse from my then (and current) location. I also saw some comparable behaviors (e.g birds thinking it was time to sleep) when the Mt St Helens ash cloud passed directly overhead (I was 170 miles to the east), a year later.

        2. Yes, Steve, I have seen both, full and partial, as it was in Birmingham, England on Friday. And last Friday was, frankly, disappointing for us. But the full eclipse in 1999, lucky as I was that the clouds parted above a cliff in Cornwall for the necessary 10 minutes that day, were inspiring.

          It was a deeply emotional experience. Our group videoed it, played it back and our comments were plain dumb. We just kept repeating, “Amazing!” Our powers of description disappeared. And the diamond ring is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. x

    2. Options:
      1. Rapture
      2. Sign Ben Carson will be the next president
      3. An atheist gave birth to the anti-Christ
      4. Jesus is on his way
      5. Armageddon

  11. It is one thing — a wrong and silly thing, I think — to permit students to opt out of an exercise as an accommodation to religious belief. But to prevent all students from participating based on the superstitions of some? That is absurd and dangerous.

  12. Further evidence that zero tolerance is the only way to go.
    This is a case where kids really suffered at the hands of a religious belief.
    Very mild, yes, but still obscene.
    Give them an inch and they will take a mile, directly or indirectly.
    No more inches.
    How many times would it take, denying a curious child the opportunity to observe mature and science and learning, for it to become child abuse? (Too strong? Not for me)

  13. Although headteacher Ivor Johnstone would not comment on what the ‘religious and cultural’ reasons were, some Hindu scriptures say that an eclipse makes believers impure.

    And fundamentalists believe that they need to bathe immediately after an eclipse and chant the name of God to overcome the forces of darkness.

    I should be outraged at the unseemly privilege that religion has enjoyed, and at the pointless curtailing of student activity that religion has been allowed to impose here.

    But I’m just too busy rolling on the floor laughing my ass off.

  14. Ugh.

    That said, my high school (administration) tried to keep us inside during an eclipse once. Worried about our eyes, etc. Our science teachers were appalled; I seem to remember our chemistry teacher telling us to go out, be safe, and enjoy and if we had trouble, to refer to him. He’s also the guy who stood up for two of my classmates who analyzed the school waterfountain water quality as a science fair project and were initially told to not do this. (This in a school that prides itself on scientific education, environmentalism and ‘service to the people’!!)

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