I used to judge debate rounds, and, when I did, I always found it annoying when debaters would downplay the desirability of the activity. For example, it was a common trope for debaters to begin their speech by saying something like “Thanks, judge, for taking the time to judge debate when I’m sure there’re more exciting things you could be doing,” or (during the last round of the day), “We’ve made it almost all the way through the tournament, so we’ll try to be brief and get you out of here soon.” This irks me because the debaters shouldn’t be apologizing for doing what they enjoy (even if it’s objectively nerdy and would bore many people). Don’t say you’re sorry about something you choose to do voluntarily; own your own actions.
Another activity that bores (and indeed depresses) many people is standardized testing, with which I have some experience. I’ve taught the LSAT on-and-off for four years (sometimes as a full-time job), and I’m currently using BarBri to study for the bar exam, which I’ll take at the end of July. Recently, while listening to a BarBri lecture (on property, I believe), an interesting difference between BarBri and the company that taught me the LSAT (TestMasters) came to mind, and I decided to write about it here: BarBri lecturers are constantly apologizing for the bar exam and, to a lesser extent, for their course (“This is really boring.” “I promise to get you out of here early.” “Hopefully you didn’t hate this awful, horrible, experience of studying for the bar.”) The culture of TestMasters, on the other hand, is very positive on the test it teaches: a great example of this is when I interviewed for the teaching position I eventually took with them, the founder of the company, Robin Singh, asked a question that boiled down to “Do you think the LSAT is a good test?” Sensing which way the wind was blowing, I replied “Yes” and gave several reasons. Mr. Singh responded “Exactly, and here are some more reasons why it’s a great test” and then spent several minutes singing the LSAT’s praises. BarBri’s corporate culture portrays the Bar Exam as an unfortunate obstacle to overcome; TestMasters generally perceives the LSAT as a worthy endeavor in which the company will assist you.
Now, it is certainly the case that the average taker of either the bar exam or the LSAT shares the BarBri approach: I hate this test; I just want to get it out of the way. Indeed, most sane people don’t take standardized tests just for the hell of it. Nevertheless, I like the TestMasters approach far better. I think there’s something of value in having a corporate culture that embraces the meaningfulness of the problem it is meant to solve. Think about it from the perspective of the instructor. If you teach to a test that you think is pointless and unpleasant, how can you be passionate about your work? If, on the other hand, you teach usable skills that manifest themselves on a fair examination that tests important abilities, then you will care much more about the product of your work and do a far better job for your students. A company that’s apologetic about it’s core purpose can’t possibly motivate its employees and care about its customers to the extent that an organization that takes pride in its function would do so. A person that’s embarrassed about what they do for a living should probably find another a job; a company that whines about its own reason for existence should probably just go bankrupt.