Monday, March 15, 2010

Personal Statement, Harvard Law School

Now that my admission cycle is over, I feel comfortable posting the final version of my Harvard Law School personal statement. As I went through the writing process, I knew that I would have to address my Teach For America experience in a meaningful way. Incorporating a story about a student I taught into my personal statement seemed to be the easiest and most effective way to convey what I learned from them during my two year commitment. It took a long time--and many edits and suggestions from friends and family--to hone the story into a coherent message about my hopes for a career in intellectual property law.

“Do you make these every day?” my student George asks, staring down at the packet of worksheets. I nod and then hand out snacks to the students diligently following along in their guided notes with my prerecorded interactive lecture. George isn’t interested. He struts toward the front of the room. His one good eye—the other was made useless by a head injury years ago—travels from the windows facing the cloudy sky across to the larger-than-life-size hanging posters of students’ work. I follow his gaze, where the order of operations process chart stands out from the others. A few weeks ago, I encouraged George to use crayons on that worksheet, and he broke down the problems into color-coded steps—purple parentheses, emerald exponents. George transformed my original 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 me. George needs to experience success before he will desire success. His participation in a culture that values his learning process and effort convinces him that my/our/his math class is worth the time, but his participation depends on my efforts to make the class accessible to him. George walks calmly to his seat and works for the rest of the hour we have together, transforming another worksheet I created into his own product of learning.

The potential to equalize the dissemination of and access to knowledge is one reason 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 had 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 my students’ right to seek and apply their learning.

Information has traditionally been controlled by those with extensive resources to 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 everyone to access and analyze it. As technologies increase the level of detail we understand inside the nucleus and beyond our galaxy, the scale of human knowledge will grow exponentially; thus decisions to control access to new information will have ever-expanding ramifications.

I believe that the right to universal Internet access and participation, the most equitable distribution model yet developed, must be guaranteed. 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 without Internet access will continue to respond as my students do: They will not fight for knowledge because they have experienced only the lack of it. If the rights to access the Internet, find and analyze relevant information, and contribute to global conversations are not protected and expanded, the gap in knowledge distribution will only increase.

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. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s commitment to exploring and shaping intellectual property law, combined with the potential for a dual degree from the world’s premier business school, convinces me that I would be best able to ensure equal access to knowledge with a degree from Harvard Law School.