In a June 1998 commencement speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, President Bill Clinton called for computer literacy to be a high school graduation requirement and declared that training should begin in middle school to ensure students had early exposure to invaluable tech job skills. Clinton made a powerful case that mandatory computer training was not only crucial to the American economy but a potent tool to address inequality by giving impoverished minority children a path to lucrative and satisfying careers and lives.

Clinton’s proposal won cheers from high-tech firms in Silicon Valley, in Boston’s Route 128 tech corridor and...

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