Saturday, May 22, 2010

What Would Michael Jackson Do?

Who knew elementary school talent shows could be so hard core? Not me. I remember the talent show as a series of pretty terrible (including my own renditions of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "I Could Have Danced All Night") yet adorable performances. A couple of the students in our Special Education class have been talking all year about performing in the talent show and we of course encouraged them. Try-outs were last week and it didn't go so well.

First of all, the person in charge of said talent show agreed that our kids could perform. Then, after he realized we were serious, began back-peddling. He told us that if the routine wasn't good enough, they couldn't perform. His excuse (that we've heard about six times over now) is that he doesn't want the other kids to laugh at them. And by the way, they are dancing to "Beat It," and they are actually decent, on a scale of pretty terrible to adorable.

I will say that the routine was thrown together (by me:)) at the last minute, so that may have been a point of frustration for the talent show organizer. BUT here is a group of kids who are on the outer fringe of their peer group, who don't usually get included in much, or aren't able to do some things and they want to get up and perform. So let them! The reality is, they are used to getting laughed at, but the even bigger reality is, their peers need to learn that it's not ok. Just because someone is a little different, doesn't mean they should be discounted. This could be a learning experience for everyone and even more importantly these kids are actually getting a shot at doing something COOL for once. He hasn't said no yet, so I'll keep you posted.

This all reminds me of a defining moment I had back in high school. It was freshman PE and we were doing a track block, so we all got to sprint, practice the high jump, and throw a shot-put. It was actually a chance for the PE teacher, who was also the track coach, to recruit. There were some Special Ed. students in our PE class also. One of them was faster than any of us and had the endurance of an Ironman. One day I asked the PE teacher whether he was going to recruit the speed racer. With a confused look he answered, "No, of course not. He's in Special Ed."

All I can think about is the many things people with disabilities usually miss out on. Many will not get to play on a sports team, join the choir, go to prom, or participate in the talent show. All because it's not their "place." It's not only about including people with disabilities, but about teaching our kids, and allowing ourselves, to accept that some people are different, but that doesn't mean they don't have anything to offer or that they don't deserve a place right alongside of us.

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