by Jack Kessler,
3.00 FYI France: Enewsletter and archive
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From kessler Fri March 15 1996
Subject: FYIFrance -- wiring schools, France vs. the US, RENATER and NetDay96
I thought I would pose a question here, this month, which compares France and the US directly. It concerns the bringing of the Internet to schools, a movement which is becoming of national significance in both countries. These two countries appear to me to be approaching the task very differently, in fact from opposite directions.
The subject may be of interest to librarians. Then again it may not, as there are so few "school librarians" in fact left in either France or the US. France does not have a good record for building and maintaining school libraries, or academic libraries of any sort. The US has enjoyed a wonderful reputation in school libraries and librarianship -- I remember the riches of my own school libraries fondly -- but now it has let that reputation slip.
The subject also ought to be of interest to any parents. French and US baby - boomers are fighting now for standards and reforms, but in educational establishments which have declined badly since the 1960s. The Internet has become the political football of the fight, in both places. In each case, the nation's largest commercial firms, and even its national politicians, have joined this "educational Internet crusade". Alain Juppé launching national initiatives, Bill Clinton punching buttons and maneuvering a presidential mouse in a California high school: baby - kissing replaced by bitmaps.
But French and US styles differ greatly in this effort. In France, M. Juppé's participation has been very direct. An inter - ministerial meeting, which he chaired himself last October, decreed that all French citizens were to be given Internet access, via a plan to be produced by that year's end. In the US context, such a decree would sound pious and empty, similar to decrees on global warming, genocide, Tibet and table grapes passed by some small US cities. The French difference, however, is that Juppé then was able to turn to the still - state - owned telephone monopoly, France Télécom, and direct them to do it. Clinton can't do that: no US president ever has been able to do such a thing so brazenly except in time of war.
So the French have decreed -- and enacted and put into operation and otherwise carried out in fact -- a number of enormous, centralized, national - government - led initiatives, in Internet access and networked information development generally. The Minitel was a national government project. ISDN access -- their "Numéris" project and service -- has been a national government initiative, as well. RENATER -- the program which provided Internet access to French education, secondary and higher, was national. And now the French Internet - for - the - people initiative -- someone tell me the correct acronym for this one, please? -- is a Paris project, of the country's prime minister himself.
But this past weekend, across the street from my home in San Francisco, I saw the other -- the American -- approach in action. "NetDay96" was one of those balloon - bedecked, volunteerist, rah - rah style, quintessentially - American events, as incomprehensible to the French as an American political convention. The idea -- I believe it might have been the brainchild of Sun Micro's John Gage, who has school - aged children, radio station KQED's Mike Kaufman, and The WELL's Danica Remy, although I know for certain only that it didn't originate in Washington D.C. -- was to use volunteers to wire the nation's schools.
The little school across the street, which my own children attended, holds a few hundred students, drawn from the most amazingly - disparate assortment of social groups imaginable. As only the Americans can do -- perhaps only the Californians -- the social classifications, of these very little kids, are enumerated in official school literature with meticulous political correctness, in a manner very un - French:
|"Other White"||22.3%||"American Indian"||1.5%|
|"Chinese"||0.3%||"Other Non - White"||6.6%|
(The only thing more curious than the "0.0%", which perhaps represents some bureaucratic wishful thinking, is the idea of ".3%": one wonders whether King Solomon works for the San Francisco public schools, in some back office somewhere. Then there are the classifications themselves: with the increasing propensity of these children to inter - marry, one suspects that the "Other Non - White" category will grow now so as to eclipse the others completely. San Francisco stretches a point considerably, calling a little girl with tightly - curled hair "African American", by virtue of her having had a single then - Negro grandparent, while her sister by the same parents can go as "Other White", for having wavy hair and for their both having had a Caucasian mother. These schools have "Filipino - Laotian - Latino" children now -- and little kids who are "Chineseafricanamericanothernonwhite" -- the situation became so confused at nearby Stanford that a club for "mixed race" students was formed there.)
The scene at the little San Francisco school this past weekend was even further un - French, thanks to "NetDay96". A great collection -- a couple of dozen volunteers, on ladders, reaching in through openings, straining to string cables, squatting on the floor sorting various things -- wiring American schools for the Internet.
Volunteerism is not a strength of French society. The French idea largely is that most services performed by volunteers in the US should be performed by the national government: that this, in fact, is what the national government is for. The idea of holding a bake - sale to raise money for a public school -- or, heaven forbid, of campaigning door - to - door asking for money throughout the neighborhood -- is pretty foreign to the French. And yet this is how "NetDay96" is building the Internet in the US.
Official sanction, furthermore, does not come from very far up the ladder, in the US case. "NetDay96" appears to have been the spontaneous idea of a number of people, simultaneously generated at a number of different sites, all folded together under the collective aegis of a local industry cooperative and commercial firms and school districts.
In France, official sanction is necessary to breathe: affiliation with or even identification within some established agency, at least a large organization if not government itself, seems sometimes the sine qua non of healthy existence there. To Americans this may sound like anathema, and they may get self - congratulatory about the difference.
They should think again though: the Americans, that is. The French themselves, first of all, don't see it that way: they like their central organization and official sanctions -- for French reasons -- the idea of relying on a spontaneous, volunteerist, "NetDay96" for the informatization of the country would make an average Frenchman very nervous.
But in addition to thinking about the French, Americans -- particularly those promoting networked information -- should consider the rest of the world as well: imagine Germany, Malaysia, Japan -- or Singapore or China -- are these more like the French or more like America? Hard as I find it to imagine "NetDay96" taking place in Lyon, I find it even harder to imagine in Jakarta, or in Chiang Mai, or in Shanghai.
My point is that the Internet will not "scale up" to international usage in the same way that it is "scaling up" at Ygnacio Valley High School in California, where Bill Clinton and Al Gore helped do the wiring. The Internet will export; "NetDay96" won't. I am an American, so I consider events like "NetDay96" to be one of the great social and political miracles of the US: one of the reasons why I like to live here. But non - Americans don't share this view, and the technology itself doesn't need it.
It's this last point -- that the technology doesn't need it -- which was underlined dramatically for me by viewing "NetDay96". Call me a cynic, but I personally fear the surprises lurking in the information technology which the US is exporting today: it is arriving in France -- and in Germany and Malaysia and Japan, and Singapore and China -- every bit as powerful as it is at Ygnacio Valley High School, but not necessarily with the immense benefits of the volunteerism, and the balloons.
The full story is best seen, understandably, online. At http://www.NetDay96.com , one can read that "1199 sponsors", "1983 organizers", and "17611 volunteers" -- this last including the President and the Vice - President of the United States -- all participated in "NetDay96".
A note to the January 15 FYIFrance issue:
Pierre - Yves Duchemin, of the BNF, Direction des collections spécialisées / Informatique et numérisation, clarified the description which I gave of BNF numérisation projects -- and the relation to them of the W3 "1000 enluminures" feature -- in a posting to BIBLIO-FR:
"There are in fact two distinct projects:
"The first, to which reference is made in FYIFrance, is concerned with the digitization of 100,000 printed works having a pagination of on average 300 pages, thus a total of about 30 million pages."
"The other concerns the project to make accessible 300,000 digitized images, of which nearly half come from the BNF and over a third from BNF Special Collections (Prints, Maps and Plans, Manuscripts, Music, Theater Arts, Money and Medallions). The '1000 enluminures' is a part of the second project."
"These two are objectives only for the opening of the Tolbiac building. Other projects, intended to complete our digital holdings further, are under study for the future." (tr.JK)
I am grateful to M. Duchemin for his clarification.
FYIFrance (sm)(tm) e - newsletter ISSN 1071 - 5916 * | FYIFrance (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic newsletter, | published since 1992 as a small - scale, personal, | experiment, in the creation of large - scale | "information overload", by Jack Kessler. Any material / \ written by me which appears in FYIFrance may be ----- copied and used by anyone for any good purpose, so // \\ long as, a) they give me credit and show my e - mail --------- address and, b) it isn't going to make them money: if // \\ if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives are at http://infolib.berkeley.edu (search for FYIFrance), or via gopher to infolib.berkeley.edu 72 (path: 3. Electronic Journals (Library-Oriented)/ 6. FYIFrance/ , or http://www.univ-rennes1.fr/LISTESemail@example.com/ (BIBLIO-FR econference archive), or via telnet to a.cni.org , login brsuser (PACS / PACS-L econference archive), or at http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison - pen letters all will be gratefully received at firstname.lastname@example.org . Copyright 1992- by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved.
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