The Legacy of the Headband
The secondary school on the outer reaches of the Homeland was a respectable institution of Ozai's reign, preparing the new generation for their role in the proliferation of the greatest empire in the world. Ergo, it was exactly like every other educational facility in the Fire Nation. It didn't even have a name; legal documents referred to the school simply as SS-259.
SS-259 educated students ages ten through fourteen. Every aspect of the school was designed to instill a sense of militant patriotism in the psyches of impressionable students, from the red and gold motif of the entire building to the towering statues and posters of Ozai in every classroom and courtyard. All students were required to wear crisp uniforms, bow to their superiors, and recite oaths of allegiance to the Fire Nation from memory. The standard curriculum consisted of Fire Nation history, basic engineering, written communication, mathematics, and citizenship courses. Music and art were options, but both were heavily restricted to ensure that they fulfilled the aim of creating cultured, loyal, and disciplined values in the pupils. Physical education was required; elementary schools evaluated the students at the age of six and divided them into two training regimens which were continued in secondary school.
Those determined to be fire benders would practice the form three times a week, while non benders would be instructed in hand to hand combat and basic weaponry. In the highest level of schooling, for ages 15-17, pupils would elect either the military track or the civilian track to finish their education. Only the wealthy continued on to university- the rest ended up in military training, manufacturing, merchant work, or agriculture. But that was all in the future. Secondary school was believed to be critical in cementing the values indoctrinated in elementary education.
By the time a student went to high education, his suitability as a citizen was unchangeable. The youth of this age range were the most vulnerable to rebellion and anti patriotism, and that was why the system was very meticulously designed to snuff nonconformity and dissention out. Yes, SS-259 was a school like every other in the Fire Nation. Until a thirteen year old boy transferred from the colonies under mysterious circumstances, wearing his uniform belt around his head and failing to bow properly to his history teacher. He told them his name was Kuzon. Everyone was ready to write him off as a hopeless rogue from the countryside- until he stood up and challenged the accuracy of a textbook that had been used around the Fire Nation for over seventy years. Little did anyone know that one boy was about to start a revolution.
"Unbelievable impertinence!" growled Ms. Kwan as she stormed into the teachers' lounge during the lunch hour. Li Gosai, a long time firebending instructor, glanced up at her in surprise. "Suri, what happened? I can't remember the last time I saw you this irked". Ms. Kwan sat down stiffly across from him. "It was a new student. Kuzon Fire. He was dragged into my class by the guards after being caught truant in town. He's one of those colony dwellers. Absolutely no manners or social graces whatsoever. I thought it was bad enough when he mocked the National Oath, but then…" She tipped back a glass of water before continuing in a low, deadly tone. "The insolent youth stood up during a pop quiz and asserted that the Air Nomads did not have a formal military, and that Fire Lord Sozin defeated them by ambush."
Mr. Gosai stared at her in shock. "Sweet Agni. Where on earth did he learn to make up balderdash like that?" Ms. Kwan sniffed mutinously. "It was clearly an attempt to undermine my authority and to avoid the fact that he did not know the answer to any of the questions on the quiz. Of course, it did not work. He sat right back down and passed in failing marks." Mr. Gosai leaned back, lost in thought. "Would you allow me to see his quiz? I'm most curious as to what other inaccuracies he purported regarding our illustrious history." Ms. Kwan sighed. "I really don't know what to make of it, although I will definitely file a report with the government questioning the validity of our colonial education. See for yourself."
Mr. Gosai eagerly examined the parchment. The enthusiasm on his face changed to perplexity and then amazement. "This is some of the best penmanship I've ever seen in a secondary student. And all of his answers are detailed and very thorough, despite being woefully incorrect in content. I mean, look at what he wrote on question five, regarding the defeat of General Iroh at Ba Sing Se. 'Iroh chose love over power, admitting defeat and mourning the loss of his son. Continuing the siege would only have brought more pain and bloodshed to both sides. Sacrificing his soul for the pursuit of power was not a compromise he was willing to make. He would eventually betray the Fire Nation by ultimately choosing to create instead of destroy the natural harmony of the world.' What kind of thirteen year old writes like that?"
Ms. Kwan shook her head. "I don't know anything about his upbringing that I could use to bring him into line. For now, I will warn all of his teachers to keep a sharp eye on him. His unorthodox ideas must not be allowed to spread."
In music class, a sunghi horn blared and two feet tapped out a vivacious beat, much to the astonishment of the surrounding instrumentalists. Mr. Shou's eyebrows knit, perturbed. Who was this kid?