Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Personal Statement, Version 2.4

This version of my personal statement cuts out most of the irrelevant parts of the analogy with my students. This let me focus more on what I found intriguing about intellectual property law, and more important, what I considered to be the solution and my future part in it. "I statements" are better for a personal statement, anyway, as they let the reader know what you stand for.
“Do you make these every day?” my student George asks, staring down at the packet of worksheets. I nod and hand out honey wheat pretzels to the students diligently following along with the interactive lecture and their guided notes. George isn’t interested. He struts toward the front of the room. His one good eye travels from the windows facing the cloudy sky across to the larger-than-life-size hanging posters of students’ work. The order of operations process chart flutters in the breeze, standing out from the others. A few weeks ago, I encouraged George to use crayons on his order of operations worksheet, and he broke down the problems into color-coded steps—purple parentheses, emerald exponents. George transformed my handout into a functional, cleanly executed work of art: a riot of color that made the other students’ black and white worksheets appear lifeless.

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

I nod, and something clicks for both of us. His participation in a culture that values his learning process and effort convinces him 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 another worksheet I created into his own product of learning.

The potential to equalize the dissemination of and access to knowledge is why I joined Teach For America. Imagine if, instead of allowing George to use color on his order of operations worksheet, I had insisted he interact with the handout only in the way I originally intended all students to use it, as a regimented template for guided notes. If I had treated my intellectual property the way most corporations and artists treat their products, George would have been disenfranchised from the class and his right to learn; my classroom would have had a lesser exemplar for students to reference. 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.

Information has historically been controlled by those with extensive resources to find and filter it. For the first time in history, the infrastructure—the Internet—exists that can not only catalogue the majority of that knowledge but also allow every person to access and analyze it. As technologies increase the level of detail observed and manipulated from inside the nucleus to beyond our galaxy, the scale of human understanding will grow exponentially. The ramifications of expanding access to that knowledge have countries and corporations tripping over themselves to protect and restrict it, but there is a surprising lack of international agreement on the rules we should all play by. Unless stakeholders with the resources to take concerted international legal action fight for the disenfranchised, I fear that the 75 percent of the world’s population who lack Internet access will face problems similar to those that I try to address every day while teaching my eighth graders in the Bronx. If the rights to access the Internet, find relevant information and analyze it, and contribute to global conversations are not protected, the unequal distribution of knowledge will persist.

With a law degree, I will be able to play a part in setting the appropriate balance among the competing interests of the producers, distributors, and consumers of knowledge. Although much of the progress needs to be made within the business spheres of distribution models and alternative revenue streams, such transformations will take place only with prodding legislation and strict oversight. [School specific information and reason I would love to attend.]