Registration for the freshman human rights and democracy class kept growing. It quickly reached 50, then more than doubled by the time classes finally started. We meet in a large unlit hallway with no equipment, not even a blackboard. Students squeeze in five or six to a bench – wooden benches, no backs; narrow wooden desks. But students show every sign of being eager to learn. For them it’s a step toward a profession, a career.
I read before coming about a lecturer (as they call university-level teachers here) who had to practice speaking in a loud voice to be heard by a large class here. Speaking isn’t the problem; listening is. Even minimal conversation in low voices among 100 students creates a rumble that can quickly drown out a voice at one end of the class from being heard at the other. But so far, its not bad. My co-teacher, Ibrahim Bangura, insists on discipline and expelled one noisy student from class the first day. I’ve made an agreement with the students that is holding pretty well: whenever I raise my hand, the class should become quiet. I don’t do it very often, but when I do they are pretty respectful and quiet down.
In fact I’m proud of their behavior so far. We had a research workshop the other day. One class requirement is to do a 7-page research paper on a human rights topic of their choice. Another requirement is to do ten hours of community service: teaching human rights in a local school or other institution. They had many questions because they had not done either kind of assignment. But when I asked them to sit in groups of about ten and quietly (indoor voices; no shouts) discuss their planned topics, they were very quiet. And their proposals are sound.
But more than half flunked the first quiz. They’re not used to quizzes; I said one was coming, but the non-note takers apparently didn’t heed the warning. There will be more.
I’ve read their personal statements, including experiences in war and peace (more on that in a separate posting on this blog) and they have seen hell during the civil war which ended only a few years ago. They want to be peacemakers and human rights activists, lawyers, judges, etc. They also want to help promote peace. Community service in this class offers them a chance. And it reinforces what they learn in class and reflect on.