Qaddafi-era history books, meanwhile, showed little respect for facts or evidence. An eighth-grade text used in the 2008-2009 school year, for instance, includes a photo of soldiers wearing what appear to be World War I-era Western uniforms and standing over corpses in robes. A nearby caption says simply that the photograph "represents the policy of Crusader colonization in the Arab world." In Qaddafi's version of history, the story was always the same, and the particulars -- British? Italians? Did this happen in Libya? -- only distracted from the lesson to be learned. "In every historical period," Khoja says, "he emphasized conflict and misunderstanding and cultural hatred -- especially when it came to the West."
GETTING RID OF Qaddafi's textbooks may turn out to be easier than figuring out how to replace them.
Over at the Education Ministry, the new bureaucracy promises revamped social studies textbooks in time for the 2012-2013 school year and revised history books within the next year or two. The hodgepodge of materials standing in for Qaddafi's curriculum over the past several months, however, suggests this may be an optimistic goal.
In history classes, Libyan students this year have found their vintage early-1970s textbooks abruptly truncated after the reign of King Idris, who ruled Libya from 1951 until the Qaddafi coup in 1969. Qaddafi-era textbooks had all but completely ignored King Idris as a British puppet; now his bespectacled, bearded face is back in Libyan classrooms, while the story of Qaddafi's rule is gone.
Indeed, with the reinstatement of the monarchy's tricolor flag and the national anthem "Ya Biladi" ("O My Country"), both holdovers from the 1950s, many of the symbols of nationhood in the new Libya are in fact old; Libyans are moving forward by looking back first, scrubbing Qaddafi's propagandistic thought from the record until they have decided exactly how to present it to future generations of Libyan students.
The ministry has given a glimpse of its ideological inclinations in the handouts it distributed to schools around the country this past year, simple pamphlets that offer short definitions of words like "democracy" and "citizenship" -- this time, borrowing from the once-hated West. According to the pamphlets, every citizen should be granted human rights, including freedom of speech and expression and the rights to organize politically and vote. In teaching these democratic principles, Sahli says the ministry hopes to train Libyans to be loyal to their country first, rather than a tribe, an individual like Qaddafi, or even a "pan-Arab" idea, all of which he says thwart nation-building.
Even so, Sahli vows that the ministry will "not make the same mistake as before."
"All historical eras will be presented objectively, without propaganda," he promises, careful to mention Qaddafi's rule among them. "Our work at the ministry is to include everybody, whether they are against or for the revolution," Sahli says. "We do not exclude or isolate people. They are all part of the new Libya."
These goals may be clear enough, but when and how the committee rewriting Libya's curriculum will achieve them is less certain. I met in March with Abdulnabi Abu Ghannaya, the committee's director, in the ministry's outer office, where dozens of functionaries filled the sofas while young office boys served coffee and water. When I asked Ghannaya how Libya's Qaddafi-era history would eventually be presented in schools -- a dark spot, a mixed bag, or simply a matter of fact -- he said simply that "historians" would take care of it. Grasping for specifics, I asked whether it would be possible to speak with the person in charge of the history curriculum, but Ghannaya could reply only, "Inshallah."
This is not as surprising as it might seem in the post-revolution government. Most current teachers, school administrators, and ministry officials, after all, worked in education before Qaddafi's fall -- some as members of the lijan thawriya -- and so had grown accustomed to his megalomania.
Under the dictator, Sahli reminds, "The Green Book was supposed to answer all political questions" for students and teachers alike. Now, he told me, "We all need some rehabilitation."
Correction: The print version of this article mistranslates the caption describing a photograph of soldiers in a 2008-2009 Libyan textbook.