John Davis, the northern California teacher taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security while watching the state school board announce his suspension, glanced at the paper between his splayed hands. "That is correct, ma'am. I consider Thierry Vlandoc's civics paper to be an excellent extrapolation of the founders' intent to our current political situation."
Someone shouted "Traitor!" from the back of the packed congressional hearing chamber. The news pool camera rotated, and the two DHS officers flanking Davis snapped to alert.
Congresswoman Melissa Simington, who chaired the committee that had managed to subpoena Davis from DHS custody, held up a hand to calm the room, and then shifted her attention to the source of the interruption. "Ordinarily, young man, I would ask to have you evicted for such an outburst. But it appears that, for once, it is entirely in order to include your perspective in the proceedings. So, if you don't mind, please come forward and take a seat behind the witness table. Do pay attention, as I may want to swear you in later."
Davis, twisted in his seat, watched nervously as the clean-cut young man approached, but then turned away when his scowl became unbearable. Looking up at his questioner, he found that the normally unflappable Nebraskan appeared to be intensely troubled.
"Now, then, Mr. Davis. Since it is abundantly clear that we're dealing with an emotionally charged situation, I would like to review how it was that we have come to this."
He nodded. "Of course. Where would you like me to start?"
"With the assignment that induced Mr. Vlandoc to submit the essay that cost you your job and has so inflamed the media these past few days."
"As part of our Constitution Day exploration of whether that document should be treated as the civil equivalent of holy writ, or as a binding contract that must be constantly reinterpreted, I had asked my students to write a paper placing one of the issues facing the men who signed it in 1787 into present-day context."
"This assignment..." Burt Hove, the Texas congressman to Simington's right said languidly. "Did you specify what form it was to take? For example, had you requested an essay with references, as opposed to a piece of narrative fiction?"
"I left that to the student's discretion. We had previously used hypothetical narratives to explore some of the issues that the founders debated during the Constitutional Convention. It was a way to add a visceral dimension to our discussion. Thierry chose to cast his issue in the form of speculative current-day fiction."
Hove snorted. "I hardly consider the blatant call for a revolt from within the armed services an acceptable form of self-expression, even if it is done in the guise of a homework assignment. Using a minor to express a sentiment that is clearly in violation of the law is no more honorable than using a child to transport illegal drugs!"
Davis leaned forward and locked eyes with the congressman. "And yet you don't find a problem with manipulating minors with taxpayer-funded propaganda and invasive school visits into enlisting with the military so that they can be sent to kill? Your party made certain that students do not have rights, so that they cannot protest, and then the military voids their rights for the duration of their enlistment, which can now be extended indefinitely. I see no difference between that, and selling a child into slavery, which is another issue that the founders struggled with. Some of them, anyway."
Simington raised a finger toward Hove and quietly told him to wait his turn to speak. Then she turned her attention back to Davis. "I apologize for my colleague's outburst. But since he has brought it up, I do want to ask about the scenario that your student sketched out. A lot of heated debate has filled the airwaves and the Internet about the issue that Mr. Vlandoc attempted to address. What is your understanding about the purpose behind the mass desertion he advocated?"
A dozen electronic shutters caught the play of expressions across Davis' face as he prepared to speak. The line of photographers on the floor in front of the dais tensed in expectation, ready to catch the day's money-shot.
"There are actually several aspects to it, but the one that I think was his centerpiece comes from the Declaration of Independence. He had been very interested in Jefferson's assertion that our government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. In fact, the class had gotten sidetracked on this issue when Thierry asked what the citizens' recourse would be if that consent was no longer given."
"I don't understand, Mr. Davis. What does that have to do with thousands of recruits going AWOL?"