A friend visited Cuba a year ago, and when he spoke of the trip, his strongest reflection was that children were treated with respect there. There was no need for my friend to explain. We are both parents. We understand how intelligent, engaged, innovative, and so on and so forth, our children are. We also understand how all of that is stifled by our education system, and by our society as a whole. Why is it that we’re pretending with our children and not respecting their ability to contribute to society?

In his TedTalk, “Changing Education Paradigms,” Sir Ken Robinson talks about the current challenge facing education systems around the world. Our economy is changing faster than ever, and our old emphasis of preparing students for a factory-system is far outdated. Even what might have been the emphasis a few years ago is outdated, and what the emphasis is now will most likely be outdated in another few years. This is resulting in students learning skills that are not relevant to what they see in the world around them, or their futures.

There are a lot of schools doing incredible work to prepare students for the 21st century. They are working on real world projects, teaching soft skills like creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking, and building school buildings and climates that invite the community to engage. They are building learning environments that might better prepare students for their future.

I wonder how we could create even better learning environments if society as a whole respected children more. If we expect children to be prepared for our current and future economies then we should involve them in those economies from the beginning. We should make them active learners and active contributors. We should have them work alongside each other, their teachers, their parents, and within their communities. This is something that can happen if we start respecting children in the United States.