Instead of reading history books, ACS students had the opportunity to learn about the Lebanese war by delving into conversations with real people who had experienced its horrors through their day-to-day lives.
Grade 10 History Teacher Kathryn Jones and HS Library and Technology Integrationist Tracie Landry organized on April 27 a special event called “The Human Library,” during which nearly two dozen “Human Books” were present, giving Grade 10 students the opportunity to ask them questions about what it was like to live through the war and how it had impacted their lives.
“The Human Library is a place where real people are on loan to readers,” said Landry. “A place where difficult questions are expected, appreciated and answered. A place where social change can begin one conversation at a time.”
The idea grew out of the experiences of Jones and Landry.
Jones had worked with an NGO that went to different towns hosting dialogues on the Lebanese Civil War. The NGO also had a theater group that staged plays on the civil war. The group wanted youth in Lebanon to better understand the history of Lebanon. Meanwhile, Landry had gone on a Global Exchange trip to Afghanistan where she met and talked with students, soldiers, women, and men who had survived the Afghan wars. In addition, she was introduced to the Human Library concept through a university course.
“These people-to-people experiences give events a human face. They bring the past alive,” Landry said.
More than 20 “human books” volunteered to take part in the event. They included residents of former East Beirut and West Beirut, university students from AUB and LAU, a fighter, a victim of kidnapping, a child, a mother, and an owner of the business who worked in an area affected by the war.
At the "Human Library," 10th grade students could “check out” human “books," by sitting down and having conversations in small groups with one of the "books." They also had the opportunity to browse through war-related media documents and actual books, and they could attend a video presentation by a former fighter-turned-anti-war-activist. Ziad Saab, who heads the Fighters for Peace NGO, which became active in 2014, has been going around schools to convince the next generation not to be pawns in the next war. "Violence is not the answer," the message in the video said. "Believe us when we say that you will carry your sins for the rest of your life, and regret will do nothing to help."
“The 10th grade studies the Lebanese War, and this type of event will give them the opportunity to meet people who witnessed these events,” explained Landry. “It will help bring history alive. It will give them the opportunity to work as real historians with primary sources – in this case the testimony of people who witnessed these events. This will help them consider some of the challenges and benefits of oral history. We hope that through human dialogue all participants can challenge stereotypes and prejudices. It makes these events real to the students and not something dry from a book.”
"Seeing students who are not usually interested in history looking intrigued, with faces all lit up tells us that they have learned a lot from this day,” said Kathryn Jones.
What happens with the “human books” after Wednesday? The organizers hope the “human books” will give them permission to record one of their conversations so that future students can learn from this event. The organizers also hope to plan the same event next year.