Ted's teaching tips

Ted Wragg

The film image of King Kong tearing up New York skyscrapers has conditioned what many people think about gorillas, and indeed the very word "gorilla" is used as a term of abuse. This magnificent picture offers an opportunity to put the image straight. As it is an albino it also raises important questions about being "different" from others.

Gorillas What do you know about gorillas - the violent stereotype of Hollywood B films, or the gentle family image of TV documentaries? Are gorillas aggressive (only when attacked or threatened, their chest-beating is largely display)? Do they live alone (they are very family-oriented, preferring groups of six to 20)? How big are they (slightly shorter than humans; females about 90kg, but males far heavier, up to 250kg or more)? Where do they live (equatorial Africa, lowland and mountain species, find Cameroon and River Congo on the map)? Are they clever (closest relative to us, apart from chimpanzees; good at problem-solving; can learn elementary sign language)? Invent a simple sign language for teaching to an intelligent ape (point to self - me; pretend to eat; hold up fingers for numbers - try to sign "Give me three of those").


What are albinos (vertebrates lacking melanin, the pigment that gives the brown colour to hair, skin and eyes? One in 20,000 children is albino, so be especially cautious if there is someone in the class). How are they different (they have white skin and hair, though blood vessels make this appear pinkish, and a pink iris and red- looking pupil)? Are there any problems (poor eyesight; lack of melanin means more chance of sunburn; in some species albinos may be attacked by others)?

Being different

Why do people or creatures who look different sometimes get attacked or bullied (others feel threatened by their differences, strong pressure to conform to the dominant features of the species for acceptance)? Can you think of human examples of hostility to people who appear different from the majority (ethnic minorities; non-conformity in dress, behaviour, language, customs)?


(a) Compare the negative picture that many people have of gorillas with the facts; (b) think up some funny captions or speech bubbles for the picture ("Do you think this suit fits, Mildred, or should I get a size smaller?"; "Did you say you were going to bully me?").

Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

Talking points

Is it inevitable that people who look or act differently will be "picked on"?


We survive by being a coherent society, acting similarly, so it is an inescapable part of human nature to be suspicious of people who are different. Non-conformists invite rejection, because they challenge the status quo. Children have always teased others in the school playground by picking out their personal characteristics and it is harmless.


Even if people are "by nature" hostile to those who are different, this is inexcusable in a civilised society. Learning to understand and tolerate differences is part of growing up as a citizen. Otherwise the result can be racism, humiliation and scapegoating. "Teasing" can easily be extended into cruel victimisation.

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Ted Wragg

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