Bonjour, my name is Michelle Tucker, a fifth grade teacher from California. Bienvenue sur my homepage! Keep scrolling to read about the most important day of my life—and maybe America's too! Or click this link to read my fifth grade classroom's stories: Neocities. They have been working very hard on their own hypertext projects!
Michelle Tucker was a chronic rule follower. Her mother said that she had been that way since she was little, ever since the day she was born in 1982. Michelle never put her dirty shoes on the furniture, never cut other students in the lunch-line (even when it was pizza day), and never spoke in class without first raising her hand. At 50 years old, Michelle’s rule-following instincts had changed quite little. She always read board game instructions before playing, always waited at a red light (even when no one was around), and, as a fifth-grade teacher at a public elementary school, always followed district-dictated lesson plans perfectly.
But on September 28, 2032, the chronic rule follower felt restless against these rules that had always governed her life as she prepared her lesson for the following day. All of the teachers at her school were asked to dedicate the day to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the global adoption of Minitel and sharing the story of the momentous occasion with their students. It was a story that Michelle knew all too well…
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and thus the end of the Cold War, American policy-makers sought to create a globalized and interconnected world.
As part of these efforts, the officials of the “First World” during the Cold War--namely America and western Europe--organized the Global Telematics and Computing Conference (GTCC) in April of 1992 to discuss a global computer network that could connect the world’s superpowers.
Surprisingly, France presented the most logical solution: the international adoption of Minitel, their already-booming telematics system. By merely spreading the reach of Minitel’s arms, scientists were relieved of the task of inventing an entirely new system, and governments were relieved of the task of writing legislation for an unprecedented program. The representatives at the GTCC voted unanimously in favor of Minitel. By summer of 1992, the global adoption of Minitel was underway. By late September, the first American chat room was launched, marking the future anniversary of Minitel in the United States. And by December, Minitel terminals were the most popular Christmas gifts on the market.
It was here that Michelle’s lesson plan was meant to stop, when Minitel was still new and exciting. At this time, people were overjoyed at the ability to log into chat rooms with friends across the globe. Teachers believed the technology to be the key to unlocking transcendent learning opportunities. Every American family used Minitel to look up numbers in the phonebook and Minitel Kiosk to pay their monthly bills. But Michelle knew that this, in fact, was not where the story ended. She wanted to yell out, I was alive back then! I know the truth about the globalization of Minitel! And the truth is—
The inner rule follower stopped her. She shook her head and massaged her forehead with all its new wrinkles. Go to bed, Michelle, she told herself, do as you're told.
The next morning, on September 29, 2032, Michelle arrived at school early to decorate for the day of celebrations ahead.
She strung a garland of tiny French and American flags across the room. She wrote in big letters on the board, “Joyeux Quarantième Anniversaire, Minitel!” In smaller letters she added, “Happy Fortieth Anniversary, Minitel!” And on each student’s desk, she left a small “pain au chocolat,” or chocolate croissant, which was sure to be their favorite part of the day. Soon, the bell rang, and thirty fifth-graders bounced into the classroom.
“Bon matin, mes petites! Good morning,” she greeted them. (As expected, the students beelined to their croissants.)
The morning passed in a blur as Michelle regurgitated the story of Minitel that she had been told so many times that it was almost automatic. As she neared the end, discussing the widespread adoption of Minitel in 1992, she made the mistake of saying, “And this all happened when I was in fifth grade, just like you all are now.”
One especially curious student said, “But you’re not in fifth grade anymore, Ms. Tucker.”
“You’re right, Carter, I’m not in fifth grade anymore,” she hesitantly responded, knowing what her student was about to ask.
“So then what happened next?”
Michelle paused. This is your chance to yell out the truth, she told herself. But the chronic rule follower grabbed a hold of her voice before she had the chance.
“Well,” she said, “the American people had studied extra hard in school, so they started thinking of new things you could use Minitel for, before anyone else could think of them. Before even the French people who invented Minitel could.”
In reality, America fostered free market competition. France wanted the government to regulate technological innovation to protect the “public interest.”
“The French people thought that they had a right as the inventors of Minitel to control it. Sort of how when you do an art project in class, you get to decide where you hang it on our art wall.”
The French government leveraged their authority as the inventors to take total ownership of Minitel. America knew that if it rejected Minitel then, it would be set back years technologically, and the country had no comparable network of its own on which to fall back.
“The French people thought it would be easiest if everyone could communicate in one language: French. So students started learning French in schools which is why you all know two languages instead of just one.”
Minitel rolled back linguistic advances and gave preferential bandwidth to programs not only in the Latin alphabet, but also programs specifically in French. Other programs became slow until they eventually faded away altogether, and French became the dominant language of education and business worldwide.
“The French people also thought their history was important, so now students all over the world learn about French history in addition to the history of their home country.”
The dominance of French programs led to the dominance of French agendas. Teachers were forced to adopt curricula that centered around French history and other European concepts like the metric system.
“This all happened a long time ago, though. And it really was for the best.”
And yet, I am fifty years old now, and I am still reeling from the changes in American educational, governmental, and cultural systems that unfolded when I was in middle school. I am haunted by the memories of my life before the French achieved global dominance through computing. I still have the urge to measure things in inches, not centimeters. I still remember every word to the Pledge of Allegiance, though I have not recited it for decades. I still recall a time when “Minitel” was a mere collection of letters that had no meaning to the average American. And I am saddened to realize that this is a time that my own students will never know.
“Does that answer your question, Carter?”
He nodded, just as the bell rang to signify the start of lunch. The students rushed out of the classroom, and Michelle wandered to the teachers’ lounge to collect herself after her transgressive internal monologue.
After eating, she checked her mailbox, as she always did. But today she found something...
...a flyer stating, “Bring Back Patriotism in American Schools!” in block letters. The subtext read, “Join The American Teachers Coalition for Patriotism (ATCP) to serve your students and your country!”
Michelle had heard of the ATCP before; in fact, she had been warned about them in a staff meeting last month. They were a countercultural group of private school educators who wanted to reinstate practices of pre-Minitel American schooling, and they were beginning to target public school teachers to join the fray.
As she stared at the page before her, Michelle envisioned two futures unfolding. In one, she tore up the flyer, followed the rules, and nothing changed in her teaching career or the lives of her young students. And in the other, she joined the silent forces of the ATCP and broke free from the demands of a Minitel-dominated world. It was a more difficult future, but it was also a more colorful one.
Michelle was brought back to the present by the ring of the teachers’ lounge telephone, and she loosened the white-knuckled hold she had on the flyer. She glanced around the room to make sure no one witnessed her trance. The room was empty, except for Michelle. Michelle, the chronic ruler follower. Michelle, the former-child who once dressed up as Martha Washington for a school performance. Michelle, the current teacher who was desperate to do right by her wide-eyed students.