Everyone’s a freak (EN-CUR-614)

“No one is born ugly; we’re just born in a judgmental society.”   

 Kim Namjoon 


This cross-curricular LS is designed to help students to understand the social and historical context of the popular, rising trend of Victorian ‘freak shows’ in order to comprehend attitudes towards race, gender, and disability behind the physical display of the so-called “human oddities”, people considered to look different or unusual. Students gather knowledge about when, where, and how the freak shows operated as a form of public entertainment, and apply this understanding in their attitude towards diversity and physical disability in order to become more empathetic. The scenario has been designed as an integral part of the National Curriculum for Global Citizenship Education (GCED)  and can be linked to several subjects to discuss the acceptance of diversity and otherness from different perspectives.


By investigating Europeana Archives, students reflected on the stories and lives of various freak performers from the past: in this way they have developed a greater understanding of disabled people and greater empathy for them, they also became aware of their own biases based on the appearance of diverse people.  

The Learning scenario proved to be particularly suitable to enhance pupils’ skills in understanding English as a second language because some activities were based on watching a movie ( “Elephant Man”) and listening song (“This is me”)  in the original language version.

Learning outcomes

Students, divided into groups and equipped with a map of the school building, explored the various areas and identify if and how a disabled person could move around easily. The product of this real-life activity has been a report. 

As final activity students staged classroom debate that reflected on this quote: “No one is born ugly, we’re just born in a judgmental society.”   Kim Namjoon 

Teacher’s reflection

This Learning Scenario has encouraged students to address their assumptions about the controversial issue of body perfection and opened the door to discuss multiple perspectives surrounding this issue. Students connected and compared the vices of the Victorian world with those of modern society and strengthened their ability to understand the diversity around them seeing it not as an anomaly to reject but as a peculiarity to encompass. 

This learning scenario has been developed during the “Digital Education with Cultural Heritage” online course. The course aimed to improve teachers’ understanding of cultural heritage in order to efficiently integrate it into their lessons and practices. The courses can be accessed here.

Author: Emma Abbate

Age of students: 15-16

Subject and topic: Literature, History, English as a second language, Global Citizenship
Education (GCED)/ Bodies as Edutainment

Learning Scenario

CC BY 4.0: the featured image used to illustrate this article has been found on Europeana and has been provided by the Wellcome Collection.

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