Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Personal Statement, Version 2.3

Picking up where I left off with my personal statement, I tried to start wrapping up the analogy between my career in education and my future goals in intellectual property law.

As I mentioned in the previous post, these versions of the personal statement dwell far too much on my individual student, George. The storyteller in me has a hard time with cutting out the specific details of a scene; while this can paint a vivid picture, most of the details have nothing to do with the analogy. Fortunately, I had several friends and family members who have already started law school--and thus had successful personal statements--critique this draft and offer suggestions for how to streamline the narrative into an analogy instead of an article.

“Do you make these every day?” George asks, staring down at the packet. I nod, lift my finger to my lips—“Now we need to be quiet”—then point to my ears—“and listen”—and the projection screen displaying my prerecorded lecture—“and think about the lesson.”

George pushes his chair out loudly and jumps away from the desk. Although my structured worksheets normally circumvent his attention deficit disorder, today he seems determined that nothing will keep him in the present. I hand out honey wheat pretzels to the students diligently copying their guided notes. George isn’t interested. I tail him around the room, reminding him of how well he is doing in math and that now isn’t the time to stop learning. The class paraprofessional tries some tough verbal love; George sucks his teeth. By now it’s become a scene, where both sides have too much at stake to back down.

George spins away from me, and struts toward the front of the room. His one good eye travels from the windows facing the cloudy sky across to the hanging posters of student work I had blown up to larger-than-life size. The order of operations process chart flutters in the breeze, standing out from the others. A few weeks ago, I had taught George to use color-coding and break down the problems into manageable steps—parenthesis were purple, exponents were emerald, etc. George had transformed that handout into a functional, cleanly executed work of art.

George knows the answer, but asks anyway: “Is that mine?”

I nod, and something clicks for both of us. The celebration of his learning process, the display of his effort, his participation in a culture that valued those things, convince him that in that moment, that my/our/his math class is worth the time. George walks calmly to his seat and works for the rest of the hour I have with him, transforming the worksheet I had created into his own product of learning.

The ability to equalize how knowledge is created and disseminated is why I joined Teach

For America; in the organization’s terms, end educational inequity. Imagine if, instead of allowing George to use color on his PEMDAS worksheet, I had insisted he only use it in the way I originally intended for all students. If I had treated my intellectual property the way most corporations or artists treat their products, George would have been disenfranchised from the class and his right to learn and thus would have been unable to contribute to the entire classes’ deeper understanding. Surely the balance should fall more equally between my right to choose how to impart knowledge and his right to seek and apply his learning.

As a society, we now have vast stores of information that have historically been limited to the few with the most resources to spend on finding and filtering it. For the first time in history, we have the tools to not only catalog all of that knowledge, but to allow every person with the tools to access and analyze it on their own. The potential repercussions of that access have countries and corporations tripping over themselves to either protect or restrict it, but there is a surprising lack of international agreement on the rules—laws—to play by. Unless international legal action is taken, I fear that the 75% of the world’s population lacking Internet access will face similar problems to those that I try to address every day while teaching.

I hope to play a part in setting the appropriate balance between the competing interests of the producers, distributors, and consumers of knowledge. While much of the progress needs to be made within the business sphere of distribution models and alternative revenue streams, such transformations will only take place with prodding legislation and strict oversight.