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Death of Tiger Mom (part 2 of 2)

I am continuing my attempts to declaw Tiger-parents. Click here for last week’s post.

As a reminder, I am a Black man. I have a Black son. I am recovering from life as an Asian Tiger mom. These may seem unrelated, but they are linked. 

Tiger moms represent one side of the educational spectrum. They are the most controlling. The most demanding. The most focused on the school’s definition of success which includes high grades, high test scores, and complete obedience to authority. With regularity, this model of parenting can produce a “good student.” But this model is terrible at creating lovers of learning. More often than not, parental control cripples the child. Instead of focusing on learning, kids will “grade-grub.” Instead of exploring their curiosities, they will follow the standard curriculum. Instead of developing inner strength and courage, passivity is rewarded. Tiger parenting imprisons the child and parent, locking mom into a never-ending cycle of propping up their fragile child. 

Tigers, Unschooling, and Parents of Black boys

Option 1: Tiger Parent Risks

As I mentioned last week, the Tiger approach is attractive to many parents, particularly parents with Black sons. The fear that grips parents of Black boys can cause them to overreact. It happened to me. I, and other parents who I have coached, tried to control the child in the hopes of keeping him on the straight and narrow. But this approach backfires as, when the child is finally free, he may run headlong into a world for which he is unprepared. That is a catastrophe, to be sure. But a worse tragedy is that the child never realizes who God made them to be. They only learn how to live according to another’s rules and definitions of success. 

Option 2: Too much freedom

The other side of the spectrum is the parent who lets their child go feral. Some do this intentionally, subscribing to a strict “unschooling” approach. Their logic is “if an overly structured school is destructive, then the opposite must be good.” Not necessarily.

Other, less intentional parents provide unreasonable freedoms to their children. Some don’t believe that they have the time or capacity to lead their kids, particularly in the early years. Most don’t realize, however, that there is a high cost to pay either way. Either parents put time into prevention on the front end or spend multiples more fixing broken adults on the back end. No judgment here, but it’s an unmistakable pattern I’ve seen in my work with families.

Option 3: A Third Way

Whereas I believe that a well-designed unschool is far more engaging than a traditional school, I offer a third way. A way that allows Tiger moms to abandon their control mindset without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This third way allows the parents of Black boys — and ALL PARENTS — to put down their desire to control and fear of the future. 

True Freedom

The highest aspiration of any parent is freedom for their child. And once a child knows how to learn, then and only then are they truly free. This graphic is what I propose. 

I encourage parents with whom I work to focus on training a child in the way they should go. To coach the child so that they become the owner of their learning. This requires a slow and deliberate turnover of control so that the child is skilled at learning whatever, whenever, and however they need. 

Skilled learners will never be limited by factors beyond their control. An “underperforming” school will never limit them because they know how to learn independently. As adults, they will never fear job disruption because they know that they can learn a new trade or profession. Because they are constantly learning, they will be aware of the disruption early enough to up-skill before the disruption. This freedom accrues to both the child AND the parent, by the way. A parent who raises a lover of learning will be a parent who can finally rest, freed from the worry of a child who falls and is unable to rise. 

Learning Independence (Lī)

I call this combination of freedom and skills, “LīF” which stands for “Learning Independence is Freedom.” Learning Independence is the real aim of education in the 21st Century. From this point on, one’s ability to learn will be the separator. Independent learning is a five-step process with each step requiring specific skills to master: 

  • Step 1: Setting a learning goal – A learner deciding what they want to learn.
  • Step 2: Developing a learning plan – A learner building the strategic plan to achieve the desired learning.
  • Step 3: Executing on that plan – A learner following through on the designs.
  • Step 4: Evaluating the outcome – A learner reflecting on their progress and determining what worked and didn’t.
  • Step 5: Taking what you learned and repeating the entire process – This final step is the most important because it requires significant courage, humility, and risk tolerance. 
The Skills of Learning Independence

Lī is a Life Skill

Learning Independence is an essential skill, just as riding a horse was indispensable when our school systems were designed back in 1894. But I ask you, how many young learners have the freedom to do any of the five steps described above? (Here’s where unschooling has a leg up on traditional school, by the way.) 

For the vast majority of traditional school learners, the legislature and district set the goals, the school develops the plans, the child is allowed to execute some of those plans in an artificial and time-constrained manner, then the school system evaluates the child. Step 5 is consistently avoided as this would slow the pace of the classroom. 

Our current educational model is built to grow Dependent Learners — which the 21st Century will eat for breakfast.  

How to switch from Tiger to LīF

Start by assessing your child — and yourself — on the five steps I described above. For example, ask, “on a scale from low to high, how strong is my child in setting goals?” Repeat this question with steps 2-5 above. 

What you’ll begin to see looks like the graphic below.

Begin by assessing your child (and yourself)

This example summarizes how one of my children and I assessed their skills in the five Lī steps. This child — who will remain nameless — excelled at execution and was relatively fearless in restarting the learning process. But this child struggled in evaluating their learning. As a result, they repeated the same mistakes. However, once we conducted this assessment, it gave the child — and me — clarity on the needed learning. The child began to recognize their weakness in certain parts of the learning process, and we started working together to build their competence.   

The New Parental Role

This is the evolution of the parental role. In the early years, controlling behaviors are needed. (Ex: giving a child “freedom” to play in a busy street is neglect. Control is appropriate.) But that control shifts over time into the role of a Coach. In the early years, the parent operates with some Tiger behaviors. They set limits, they define learning objectives, and they make sure their child brushes their teeth. As the child ages, however, the parent intentionally trains the child to own their learning. The child will earn the freedom to fail, and in so doing, the parent coaches the child to grow from that failure. The result is a young teenager who is far more responsible and far more aware of how to learn than their 20-something counterparts. See the image below.

Shifting roles on the road to Learning Independence


I will be expanding on these topics in my forthcoming book “Elon’s Kids vs Yours: A Disruptive Education Playbook for Non-Billionaires” (working title), with an expected release in Winter 2021.

Apologies to my many readers who prefer traveling by horse.

In the meantime, for all you Tigers out there, consider yourself declawed. The 21st Century is nothing like the 20th. Any attempt to maintain an antiquated learning approach is like maintaining your reliance on the horse for transportation. Sure, you can do it, but why in the heck would you?! (With due respect to my many Amish readers). 

In the present and future, Learning Independence is the aim. Tiger moms, take notice.

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