Story of youth with timeless relevance

12th October 2007 at 01:00
Sean McPartlin is depute head of St Margaret's Academy in Livingston.

Unsurprisingly, The Diary of Anne Frank has always been on the bestseller lists. Its subject matter two Jewish families hiding from the army of occupation in war-torn Amsterdam, their betrayal, and Anne's death in Belsen a month before liberation is the stuff of classic thrillers. However, as a work of fact rather than fiction, it is much more than that. Despite the apocalyptic conditions that caused Anne to begin writing, there is a universality in her words and views that teenagers still recognise and understand in the very different world of today.

Visiting her house last month, I was struck by the queue snaking round the block; delighted that one girl's story could have so evidently outlasted the evil of her situation. Emotional understanding came to me when I saw the film star pictures, cut out of film magazines smuggled to her each month and pasted to the wall of her tiny room. It was such a recognisably teenage pastime, made horribly poignant by the abnormality of her situation.

Intellectually, the pause for thought came with the looped video of her father, Otto Frank, recorded long after the war, speaking of his emotions on reading the diary. It had been hidden by a friend who had retrieved it from the attic after the family's capture. She had only handed it over to Mr Frank when Anne's death was confirmed. Still bewildered, he reflected on how little he knew his daughter. "Even living for all that time in such a small space," he said, "I had no idea of her deepest thoughts and views, of who she really was."

For teachers and those who work with young people, those words ring clear. The complications of childhood and adolescence, their concerns, worries and apprehensions, all combine to challenge our approach to the job we do. Otto Frank's words were a strong reminder of the uniqueness of each child and the time we need to make to get to know them as best we can.

As we left the house, a tourist in front of me said to her companion: "Oh my those stairs. I never saw so many stairs!" It was tempting to reflect that you don't get to the heights without putting in the effort to climb.

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