John Walsh: 'Free' schools don't come better than this


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Toby Young and his school collective in west London might like to consider a Chinese version of their experiment. In Getu, a remote mountainy region, the villagers asked for a school. Local education authorities looked at the village's primitive conditions and refused. So they did it themselves. They built classrooms, even a playground, in a huge cave the size of an airport. It worked well. Wildlife (especially bats and lizards) made nature study a doddle. The walls displayed rock strata (check that out, geology students) and the acoustics were a boon at choir practice. But when the school became news around the world, education bigwigs in Beijing closed it down and built a new one. "China is not a society of cavemen," fumed an official spokesman, slightly missing the point.

* Fans of JD Salinger will be glad to hear of his likes and dislikes, as revealed in a cache of letters: how he admired Tim Henman, Upstairs Downstairs, Burger King, took coach trips to national monuments and visited the zoo. A year after his death, there's something big that we know (to echo Donald Rumsfeld) we don't know about him. One letter, dated 1991, says he'd spent the previous 25 years (since becoming a recluse in 1965) writing without the "distraction" of publication. So where are the recluse volumes? There's fevered speculation that 15 full-length novels were found in his safe. Stephen King said the world would finally know if he'd been writing masterpieces all this time. But since his death, there's been silence from the Salinger estate. Can we have a hint?

* After being scared of wolves for centuries, we now know what to do when they attack you. A 13-year-old boy called Walter Acre was walking home from his school in Rakkestadt, Norway, when he was encircled by a quartet of the snarling muggers. Knowing it was madness to run away, he stood his ground and – perhaps he thought he was in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale – play them some music. He called up iTunes on his mobile phone and played "Overcome" by the noisy post-grunge Florida band, Creed. Sure enough, the wolves slunk away, yowling pitifully, and trying to cover their ears with their paws. Everyone knows wolves aren't that tough. They're all secretly Coldplay fans at heart.

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