Comic Sans, British officialspeak, and the separation of church and state


A shining star memory from my adolescence was a series of summer school trips to a Buddhist temple, a synagogue, a Sikh temple, a mosque and a cathedral. Granted, this came as a privately-funded summer school experience not as a part of public school. However, the memory is seared upon my consciousness of meeting the different people, partaking of a little bit of their customs, learning about their religion and outlooks on life. So valuable. (Now I’m a bitter, religion-hating atheist, but that’s a different story.)


It’s not just the UK, Comic Sans is the font of choice in the American educational system too. Everything from school board meeting minutes to start-of-the-year supply lists.

Back when I was an education reporter, I asked someone about that, and they linked me to this story saying there was alleged research into educational benefits behind the font.


Comic Sans. Because… Kids.


If that theory is right, then they should at least try a hard-to-read but pretty font. How about fraktur or something calligraphic? Comic Sans makes it look like you are receiving a memo from a clown.


Truth in advertising.


Its such a good thing that the separation of church and state in the US prevents any religious influence on the school system.


"There could be all manner of reasons why parents do not allow their children on a trip.

"But that doesn’t mean the parents are racist…

The criticism of officialdom and its typography is well-taken here. But I’m curious about this ‘all manner of non-racist reasons’ why parents don’t want their kids to go on this trip.

“…so British state schools have mandatory “religious education” curriculum (which is often a survey of world religions, but which rarely, if ever, touches on atheism).”

…because atheism isn’t a religion? Isn’t that what is repeated ad nauseam?


There’s nothing objectively bad about Comic Sans. It’s just routinely overused, and used in hilariously wrong contexts - like this official letter. If the only place you ever saw it was your annual letter from your great aunt, it would be charming and folksy.


That’ll be Immigrant Paedophiles, surely


Education about religions doesn’t mean you can’t also teach kids why some people specifically disagree with their teachings. Or about the conflict between various religions either, for that matter.

As a British, state school educated and atheist adult, I for one feel that this was indeed the correct move.

Religious education, that is the study of world religions, is a very important class which all students should take. It teaches respect for other people and their beliefs, which in turn leads to a strong, multicultural society, something which we can all agree is a good thing.

The problem is that in middle England there exist groups of people who are, unfortunately, swayed in their opinions by news papers like the Daily Mail (the paper that published this letter). As they rarely meet a Muslim person in real life, they rely on news papers to feed them their ideologies.

It’s no surprise then that the teachers of this school, who want simply to expand their students’ minds, were worried that the parents of these students might object to their precious children visiting the place of worship of another culture.

I don’t think this is damning the school, I don’t think it’s damning the lack of separation between church and state. I think this is damning of the parts of Britain that still hold on to their British for Britain mentality, enforced by muck spreading newspapers like the Daily Mail.

Should the school have played the racist card? Well, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about the school in which this was sent out. It’s possible that racism is already a big problem in that school. In that case, it might well have been justified. If not, then it would be considered quite heavy handed.


No, I’m pretty sure it’s primarily about the Comic Sans.


Maybe there was a cost attached to the visit, or maybe the parents are strongly attached to their crazy version of the Giant Sky Wizard Fairytale and disagree with their kids being taught competing idiocies. Surely not liking someone’s religion is not “raciest” but “theist” instead. Is it not racist to assume that there is a correlation between religion and race or even religion and culture. Anyone can chose to believe any bollocks they want.

Its really got nothing particularly to do with the separation of church and state. Religious education is taught in lots of countries which, unlike the UK, have no state religion, and parents in the UK have a specific statutory right to withdraw their children from religious education if they wish to. This is just a stupid headteacher exceeding her mandate very considerably.


It is but one small step from Comic Sans to using Shatter; and then its game over…

This was reported as a serious mistake by a Staffordshire school.
It has so far been reported in Boing Boing as a serious mistake by Boing Boing.

Parents were right to be upset because the school confused ‘culture’ with ‘race’, because it lied when it said it said the trip was a statutory requirement, but most importantly, the school essentially held the kids ransom, “agree to this or we will harm your child”.

Having arranged a commendable extra-curricular activity, the school then threatens a confused ultimatum. Whoever is responsible for this letter has no place in education (Tory Home Office would suit better).

The racism component in this piece is a red herring. Please treat it as such.
Suburban and semi-rural towns in the West Midlands aren’t particularly against cultural or religious diversity; indeed, the West Midlands is where religious, cultural and racial diversity is more enjoyed than ‘tolerated’.

Religions aren’t races and we’re right to feel uncomfortable when schools threatens the children it should be teaching, however good the supposed intentions.


As somebody who does not adhere to any religion: religion has been a pretty central part of human civilizations for millennia. You can’t really fault a school system for covering it, especially if it isn’t specific to any single religion. It’s also not ‘mandatory’ in any useful meaning of the word since you can opt out of it in most industrialized countries.

This doesn’t have anything at all to do with the separation of church and state.


Religion is an incredibly important part of today’s society (whether any religion is true or not is irrelevant - they all have a big impact), and not teaching it in schools would be a serious oversight. Being taught that there were many different, conflicting, religions whilst at school was one of the reasons I became atheist, and I remember discussions we had in RE concerning atheism.

It’s got nothing to do with separation of church and state, and everything to do with providing a well rounded education.