The other day our daughter came home from school with a new assignment: memorize the names of the counties in Austria and their two letter abbreviations on car license plates. There are 99! The assignment is typical of Austria - and very different from our previous experience in the USA where skills rather than encyclopedic knowledge were taught. Why feed students with often useless knowledge which they need to be able to reproduce on demand? In times of Google and Wikipedia? The schooling philosophy behind Austrian teaching is probably 250 years old. It favors dictated over self directed learning, dependent thinking over independent judgment, and authoritarian over democratic structures. God bless Austria!
Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: A physician, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero. The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent. The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis,