William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal


If the United States is to reverse its creeping, illiberal descent, generations of youth must emerge from this tribal, post-truth, pandemic-shattered era to mend democracy. Hope for that uncertain future lies in re-engineering how schoolchildren learn democracy-- not from a civics textbook but by experiencing it in the classroom. The sad irony is that we still lack a knowledge base, grounded in research, for that type of democratic education. Nearly two and a half centuries into the republic's existence, our commitment to democratic education is honored more in the breach than in observance. And our uninformed, polarized, and disaffected electorate is not happy coincidence.

As calls to 'reimagine education' mount in the time of coronavirus, this Article is the first to propose a constitutional remedy-- an individualized education plan (IEP)-- for all schoolchildren to bring democracy directly into the classroom. This IEPs-for-all remedy animates an affirmative duty long neglected but firmly established in the text, history, and precedents of state constitutions: the duty to educate democratically. This Article is the first to distinguish this duty apart from constitutional obligations of equality and adequacy, contending that the duty to educate democratically guarantees public schooling for and through democracy.

Borrowing a process from its namesake in special education law, the IEPs-for-all remedy signals that all education is special by giving students a voice in their own education and teachers more autonomous choices over how to address their students' needs, capacities, and interests. Such forms of democratic participation can empower teachers to teach and students can learn democracy through experience. Retooled for data collection, the IEP can also amass a knowledge base about educational needs, interventions, and effective instructional practices to inform democratic decision-making-- locally at first in the classrooms, schools, districts, and then eventually in the states charged with the constitutional duty to educate democratically.