TRIPOLI, Libya — Boys and girls chanted slogans against Moammar Gadhafi and teachers hanged an effigy of the fugitive leader Saturday as many Libyan children started their first school year without the "brother leader" dictating the curriculum.
Euphoria filled the halls, but teachers admitted a lot needed to be done to overhaul an educational system where a main goal for nearly 42 years was to instill adoration of Gadhafi and what he touted as the greatest system of rule in the world – the "Jamahiriya," a utopian "rule by the masses" that in reality boiled down to rule by Gadhafi.
At the Al-Fayha Elementary School, boys dashed around the courtyard unfurling the red, black and green revolutionary flag that has replaced the old regime's green banner. Students, many decked out in "Free Libya" T-shirts in the same colors sang, "You are a free Libyan, raise your head up" and other victory songs.
In the same courtyard last year, the kids would have started their day lined up to sing in praise of Gadhafi.
"I am happy because the frizzhead has run away," said 10-year-old Mofida Abdul-Hakim, using a popular insult for the curly-haired Gadhafi.
Like many, she greeted friends she hadn't seen for weeks because so many families were holed up in their houses in fear before Tripoli fell to anti-Gadhafi forces on Aug. 21. Abdul-Hakim said she had seen people wounded during violence in Tripoli – but she proclaimed that she wasn't afraid.
The school, with around 800 students, sits on the edge of Tripoli's Fashloum neighborhood, which saw some of the fiercest clashes between Gadhafi supporters and rebels.
The school opening is part of attempts by the National Transitional Council, once the leadership of the rebellion and now closest thing to a government in the North African nation, to restore a sense of normalcy despite continued fighting in three southern and central areas that remain loyal to Gadhafi.
Not all facilities in Tripoli opened their doors, and school officials urged patience, saying it will take time to build a new curriculum and provide new equipment after years of strict control by Gadhafi's regime.
"I believe the National Transitional Council will give us new books, computers and tapes," said headmistress Moofidha Nashnoush as she rushed through the halls hanging up new flags and hugging her colleagues. "We need to help the children forget the Gadhafi era and start fresh."
Framed pictures of Gadhafi sat on the floor facing the wall in her office, waiting to be taken away.
Al-Fayha's second-floor library is still filled with Gadhafi's Green Book, his political manifesto that explains his "Third Universal Theory for a new democratic society." Staff said they might have a party to get rid of the hated material.
The same teachers were working in the previous school year, teaching the regime's curriculum. They all said Saturday they were happy to be rid of it.
Bahoula Salam Ergei, a 37-year-old teacher, recalled how her lesson plan – including teaching the Green Book and the "mind of Gadhafi" – was always dictated by orders handed down from the regime and she was afraid to change it. Others said authorities often ordered sudden, random changes that they had to follow.
"We will have a very good future without Gadhafi," Ergei said. "We have to explain to the children what's new with the revolution and help them forget the violence."
She teared up as she recalled how her own son was shot in the leg in front of her eyes and had to go to Tunisia to be treated.
There were hints at the difficult road ahead for reconciliation in a country where all were forced to go along with the regime – but some did so more enthusiastically and sincerely than others.
A heated argument broke out in the courtyard when one teacher accused another of having been pro-Gadhafi.
The woman insisted she supported the revolution.
"I agree with this new situation. We need freedom and we need new subjects in school," she said, eagerly reaching out for fliers making fun of the ousted leader.
Her accuser hesitated before finally giving her one. "We were with the rebels but we are kind and will be nice to you," she told the teacher.
In the school courtyard, Nashnoush led dozens of children in songs and chants about the new Libya. At one point, teachers strung up a puppet with Gadhafi's frizzy hair and trademark sunglasses up the flagpole as the children cheered.
The kids mobbed around school counselor Amal Suleiman el-Aroud as she carried a poster of Gadhafi to a concrete platform. "Who is this man?" she yelled.
"He is the war criminal, the one who killed our fathers and uncles," the children cried back.
She then tore the poster up and set one of the pieces on fire.