When I skipped school last year to attend a town hall held by my local congressman, I felt out of place in the sea of professionals and elected officials. But I wasn’t surprised that I was one of the only students there—many civic activities happen during school hours, so teens must decide if participating is worth a bad mark on their attendance record. Too often we miss important chances to make our voices heard because we don’t want to get in trouble with our school. If schools gave us a day off for civic engagement, we wouldn’t be forced to choose between being good students and being good citizens.
Giving students a day off for activism helps us fight for what matters most to us. According to a 2019 survey by Irregular Labs, 73 percent of Gen Zers said being politically or socially engaged is very important to their identity. My generation has a plethora of social issues facing us, and we’re hungry to do something about them. For example, when we learn about the adverse effects of plastic pollution in our biology classes, we might be galvanized to lobby to protect the environment. When schools support us in putting our education into action, they empower students to make the world a better place.
Another reason students should get a day off for activism is because directly engaging with our communities makes us better citizens. If you learn about the world only through the classroom, you can feel cut off from reality. When I attended that town hall, I got a firsthand understanding of the political process far more vivid than anything I could learn from a textbook.
Administrators who don’t support excusing students from school for civic engagement may argue that teachers could create in-class simulations where students learn about testifying and protesting. But how can a classroom replicate the thrill of marching with thousands of your fellow students, or the exhilaration of speaking in front of a roomful of politicians about a cause?
When students have the backing of their schools to attend events in the name of civic engagement, they develop the drive and hands-on experience to become socially responsible leaders and changemakers of the 21st century.