Michael Jackson, Macarena and the Inclusion Revolution | GUEST OPINION

Every year around this time, the Marysville-Pilchuck High School cafeteria is transformed for one special evening into a magical wonderland of music, dancing, and fine dining at our annual Life Skills Prom. Organized by parents and National Honor Society students, with the help of generous donations from the PTSA, Tulalip Tribes and other community members, this event gives students with developmental disabilities an opportunity to dress up and have a real night on the town.

At this year’s event, Life Skills students and their guests were formally announced as they entered the building where they walked down a literal red carpet to their places at beautifully decorated tables. Then dinner was served, followed by entertainment, professional photographs and hours of footloose fun. Life Skills students danced together with normal-ability peers in an indistinguishable mix of lights, music, motion, and laughter — everything from Michael Jackson and the Macarena to Conga Lines and Gangnam Style. It was an absolute blast for everyone!

Toward the end of the evening, several of the National Honor Society students commented that they had a much better time at this prom than at some of the regular high school dances. Here they were able to just be themselves and have fun instead of feeling pressured to live up to some Hollywood standard of coolness and hyper-sexuality. There is just something about these Life Skills students that is so authentic and unpretentious that it simply erases any veneer of artificiality one might be tempted to put on.

This is the revolutionary power of inclusion — a power that serves to humanize and liberate any activity, from school to play to work and beyond.  We have all heard powerful stories about businesses that were so caught up in the relentless competition for maximum efficiency and market domination that they found themselves in real danger of losing sight of their very reasons for being in the first place, only to be radically transformed by the inclusion of a person with a developmental disability. Their presence served to humanize the pace and priorities of the businesses in ways that actually improved their overall performance and got them back in touch with their own core values.

The same is happening in countless classrooms around the nation. Students with disabilities are learning side by side with normal-ability peers and are enriching the education and growth of all in the process. Students are achieving academic goals as well as learning how to live in a society that has a place for everyone. It’s a win-win situation for all.

We have come a long way toward building a more inclusive society, but we still have far to go. In the end, we have to decide whether we are willing to submit to the status quo by allowing economic, social, and cultural forces to exclude people with developmental disabilities from full participation in the world as it is, or commit ourselves to including these remarkable human beings and the gifts they bring in our hope for the world that can be.  Inclusion is not simply a token act of political correctness.  It is a very real revolution that may just wind up saving us all.

Jim Strickland lives with his family in Marysville and teaches at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. He can be reached at livedemocracy@hotmail.com.


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