Standing before graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, President Clinton on Friday issued a call to schools across America to open up the miracles of the information age to children, offering federal incentives to states willing to require computer literacy among their students.
Clinton, delivering the commencement address to 2,400 graduates and their parents on sun-dappled Killian Court, said computers should provide all children with opportunity rather than leaving poorer students behind for lack of equipment and knowledge."We know from hard experience that unequal education hardens into unequal prospects," Clinton said. "We know the information age will accelerate this trend. History teaches us that even as new technologies create growth and new opportuniy, they can heighten economic inequalities and sharpen social divisions."
As a partial and modest remedy, Clinton unveiled a proposal for a $180 million teacher-training program, in which the federal government would provide middle schools with approximately $20,000 each to train a teacher as a so-called technology expert. That teacher would then be expected to train other teachers and pass their knowledge along to their students, White House officials said.
The commencement address, delivered on a chilly morning near the banks of the Charles River, launched Clinton through a whirlwind day in Greater Boston - a day in which he looked sadly back at the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and ahead to the promise of future generations of students.
From MIT, the president attended a lunch at Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II's house in Brighton to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the shooting of RFK. In the late afternoon, Clinton flew by helicopter to Lincoln and spoke at the grand opening of the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods. He flew home from Hans-com Air Base at about 6:30 p.m.
Clinton, wearing a black gown from his alma mater, the Yale Law School, was the first sitting president to deliver a commencement address at MIT. He spoke to the largest graduating class in the school's history.
In his address, Clinton cited an effort at the nearby East Somerville Community School, where teachers trained in technology are using equipment supplied by Time Warner Cable to give students in grades 1 through 8 "an early and enormous boost in life." Clinton said the program is so successful that students came to the school over winter break to work on computer projects.
"That small miracle can be replicated in every school, rich and poor, across America," Clinton said. "Yet, today, affluent schools are almost three times as likely to have Internet access in the classroom. White students are more than twice as likely as black students to have computers in their homes."