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As a child I read The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as many other works dealing with the Holocaust. Although there was much in these works to sadden and depress me, I was buoyed in reading that in the midst of these heinous acts, there were people who refused to collaborate with the perpetrators. Their actions gave me hope as a child that good people - ordinary heroes - existed.
Years later as an adult, I was touched when Miep Gies, who had helped hide the Frank family, published a memoir titled Anne Frank Remembered (1987). In her prologue to this gripping, intimate perspective, she offered this self-appraisal:
I am not a hero. I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did or more.... There is nothing special about me. I have never wanted special attention.
In addition to her self-deprecating evaluation of her own efforts in assisting the Franks, Gies provided the myriad multi-generational readers of Anne's diary with another perspective on her story.
What is a Hero?
I began to think of how I could use this work to engage my inner-city, multiethnic middle school students in a study of ordinary heroes. It was not that the curriculum ignored ordinary heroes, only that it was informed by a heavy emphasis on the glitzy heroes celebrated in today's media - sports figures, multimillionaire executives, rock and film stars, and so on. We even had discussed such well-known anti-heroes as O.J. Simpson and Joey Buttafucco.
I decided to use Gies's very honest, personal thoughts on heroism as a springboard for a student search of authentic, unheralded, contemporary heroes. I distributed a sheet of quotes from her book to my 7th graders, some …