A few weeks back some schools back east made some ink by making sure (or at least making noise that they were going to try to make sure) their students weren't using social websites like myspac.com or xanga to socialize. At the same time, we're seeing deepening disengagement among youth politically and civically.
While voting among "youth" (18-24 year olds) surged in 2004 by 11 percent, voting is only the apex of a much broader category of participation that includes anything from writing a letter to the editor, attending a meeting, joining an organization or blogging. To that end, schools shouldn't ban social websites, they should encourage them, or even require them as part of an overall education to train students how to be engaged.
We talk alot about wired government and extreme democracy, and a lot of that talk has to do with how technology will change the way we do politics. Much of it though experiences the slow grinding pain that is politics, so in our everyday life we aren't seeing much of it.
But, high school governments that are lead by high schoolers who are already using many of the tools that we want to see used in campaigns and governments, are uniquely qualified to be a training ground for citizenship skills and a testing ground for online democracy.
Imagine showing up at school, and part of being a student in an online account (with myspace or maybe a school centered website) where in addition to simply, you are required to be involved in some level of student government. You either must propose or support certain ideas, register your vote on initiatives and vote, nominate and then complain to your officers.
We teach about our government and civics, but (from my experience) we do little to train the skills needed to be an active citizen or use the tools that will facilitate that engagement. The popular Newspapers in Education program promotes reading newspapers to high school students, but it ignores how most of us will engage in the future.
We're also in a time where those skills are being adapted to new technologies and those technologies are being best used not by use almost 30-somethings, but by the kids coming up behind us.