No eclipse for you, children

Children at a London primary school were banned from watching the eclipse for “religious and cultural reasons.”

Council officials demanded an explanation from the head of the school in a multi-cultural suburb of west London.

Phil Belman, the father of a seven-year-old girl at North Primary School in Southall, rang the headteacher to express his anger.

My daughter was sent home yesterday to make a pinhole camera for the eclipse.

This morning I heard for religious and cultural reasons the kids were going to be banned from any part in the eclipse.

I was put through to him straight away and he confirmed it, religious and cultural reasons. I said that was totally outrageous. I asked him to elaborate and he refused.

It’s just going back to the dark ages really.

The part about refusing to elaborate is especially annoying. It’s a council school, not a private religious school; what is it doing banning all the students from watching the eclipse? What is it doing refusing to discuss the matter with a parent?

Ealing Council confirmed the pupils were not allowed out of their classrooms but said they were able to see the eclipse on TV screens.

The headmaster, Ivor Johnstone, issued a statement saying he was sorry for any disappointment.

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.

Don’t be sorry for the disappointment; stop banning things for religious reasons; that’s not the school’s job.


  1. says

    Now that I have recovered somewhat from the shock, cultural reasons are precisely among the reasons why children should be allowed, indeed encouraged, to watch the eclipse.
    BTW, equinox is just five minutes away. Cheers!

  2. karmacat says

    I don’t get it. If a child doesn’t want to look at an eclipse, he or she doesn’t have to. It is telling that everyone has to suffer because of a few people’s insecurities

  3. RossR says

    My primary school teacher prevented me from watching the (major but not total) 1956 eclipse because “not everybody has proper eye protection”. I still haven’t forgiven her for that, but a hare-brained “cultural” reason is even worse.

  4. Cassidy McJones says

    How fucking stupid. And what the fuck with them not explaining themselves? They have an obligation to the children and the parents. If they’re going to do something like this, they damn well better have a bullet-proof reason for it. Garr.

    Where does it stop? Are they going to cancel science classes if some families have “religious and cultural concerns” about them?

  5. RJW says

    Religious drivel not withstanding, it is potentially dangerous to observe a solar eclipse without proper precautions, so there are sound health and safety reasons for a blanket ban. I can imagine the legal feeding-frenzy if some unfortunate child had his or her sight impaired as a result of an unsupervised observation of a solar eclipse.

  6. Morgan says

    Am I missing something? What possible “religious and cultural reasons” could those be? I don’t know of any proscription in any mainstream religion against viewing an eclipse – sure, I suppose someone could conceivably object on geocentric grounds, but then why would the objection be confined to viewing the eclipse “directly” while watching on TV and learning about orbits is okay? Is this a dog-whistle for something obvious I’m not getting, or is it as bizarre as it seems?

  7. Blanche Quizno says

    Has anybody figured out what, exactly, are the “religious and cultural reasons”?

    I’ve NEVER heard of such a thing.

  8. Eric O says

    @RJW #9

    I remember there being a solar eclipse when I was in elementary school and we weren’t allowed to observe it for health and safety reasons. I get the logic, but I was still pretty unimpressed at the time.

  9. says

    Yet another person here puzzled by the “religious and cultural” bit, but aware of legitimate safety concerns.

    Some years (like about 20) there was a partial eclipse here. By arrangement with the teacher, I set up my 4″ scope outside the window of my son’s classroom, and projected the image into the room onto the opposite wall. It was quite successful.

  10. RJW says

    @12 Eric O
    @13 Eamon Knight,

    Yes, from the report I get the impression that the spokesman for the school was unaware of the health and safety issues involved, since he cited “religious and cultural reasons’ for the ban, which if true, is rather alarming. Perhaps there are some relevant facts missing from the report. Some of the commenters here also seem to have been previously ignorant of the risks involved in unprotected observation of a solar eclipse.

  11. chigau (違う) says

    I went to school in a very small town in Canada in the 1960s.
    We watched a few eclipses.
    It was always used as an opportunity for teaching and learning.
    By the Big Day everyone had pin-cameras, smoked glass, ‘borrowed’ welders helmets, etc.
    No one was harmed.

    There were a few kids…
    The sort that would do Jackass stuff…

  12. Callinectes says

    I assumed that the horrendous cloud cover alone was enough to put a stop to any eclipse-viewing shenanigans.

  13. guest says

    @16 I was just going to say…I was a few miles from Southall yesterday morning and it was so overcast I couldn’t even tell where the sun was in the sky, and it didn’t even seem to get appreciably darker. Disappointing. Even more disappointing as it became clear later in the day.

  14. RobW says

    torygraph has more info:

    “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.”

  15. says

    I’m suspicious of this, not least because although there are apparently some religious sensitivities around eclipses (esp Hindu we’re told), no parents have been found who raised any such issues. And the head teacher is refusing to say.

    Perhaps this is an example of a head teacher being overly cautious and citing any old excuse. Usually it would be “health and safety” (and of course there are genuine health and safety issues about looking at the sun, which nonetheless haven’t stopped most schools) that was being dubiously cited. This time it’s “religion and culture”.

  16. James Howde says

    I can’t believe the cultural insensitivity being displayed here.

    Ra’s journey through the heavens in his Manjet-boat has been interrupted after being devoured by Apep the star snake – and you suggest that this life and death struggle should serve as entertainment for gawping heretic schoolchildren.

    The weather only shows that the mighty sun gods agree with Ivor Johnstone’s inspired stance.

    HAIL to thee, Amun-Ra, Lord of the thrones of the earth, the oldest existence, ancient of heaven, support of all things;

  17. Al Dente says

    No, James Howde @19, you’re incorrect. The dung beetle which pushes the Sun across the sky was feeling a mite peckish so it took a bite out of the Sun. However the morsel of Sun was too hot so the dung beetle spat it out and it went back to the Sun.

    BTW, I hate dung beetles. I can’t stand their shit-eating grins.

  18. Trebuchet says

    But the eclipse coincided with a new moon! A NEW MOON! Coincidence? I DON’T THINK SO!!!!!

    Seriously, since the kid was sent home the day before with instructions to make a pinhole for viewing, some parent(s) probably complained. New moons by themselves are pretty significant to some religions.

  19. says

    @18: And are all the children of the school Hindu? Fine: allow parents to opt their kids out of observing the eclipse if they wish — there’s precedent for that. They can hide in the classroom with the shades drawn, if they must. And let the kids whose parents are not so superstitious go out and have a learning experience.

  20. johnthedrunkard says

    Observing an eclipse might lead the children to ask awkward questions about how the sun and moon orbit the earth simultaneously.

    We have recent YouTubes of Saudi clerics ‘demonstrating’ that the universe revolves around the earth….

  21. says

    although I agree with the sentiments expressed by the commentators above, the kids didnt miss anything. The cloud cover above London was total for the whole of the show. Basically it was dark and then it got a bit darker.

    Its a shame because I watched the 1999 (?) eclipse on a cloudless summer afternoon in Cardiff and it was flipping ace 🙂

  22. Trebuchet says

    We have recent YouTubes of Saudi clerics ‘demonstrating’ that the universe revolves around the earth….

    And Catholic “apologist” and notorious anti-Semite Robert Sungenis has a whole movie out for the same purpose. Not all religious people are idiots, but all religions have idiots.

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