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‘Tiger Cub’ Law Prof Says Parents and Schools Should Teach More About Emotional Intelligence

Posted Nov 21, 2011 6:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A University of Colorado law professor and self-described “tiger cub” has some advice for tiger parents and law schools: You can improve by focusing more on emotions and emotional intelligence.

Professor Peter Huang, a Chinese American who enrolled in Princeton University at the age of 14, outlines his views in an essay called “Tiger Cub Strikes Back: Memoirs of an Ex-Child Prodigy About Parenting and Legal Education.” He sees some similarities between mainstream legal education and tiger parenting. Both rely on hierarchical, top-down learning environments that emphasize compliance, fear, memorization, obedience, precedent, and respect for elders, he says.

He sees a better way. Huang says success in life and lawyering is based on wise judgment and decision-making, and the skills should be taught by parents and legal educators. Those who have such skills will also have emotional awareness, he says.

“Law school clinical and negotiation casebooks and courses often discuss the importance of recognizing and responding appropriately to emotions in attorneys, clients, judges, juries, and other legal actors,” Huang writes. “Yet much of current American legal nonclinical education teaches students explicitly and implicitly that lawyering is just about logical analysis and not about feelings.”

He begins his essay with a reference to Yale law professor Amy Chua, who told of her tiger mom style in a book and a Wall Street Journal article. “If a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child,” Chua wrote. “The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong.” (Chua said later that the Wall Street Journal story failed to emphasize points made in her book about the lessons she learned and her retreat from a strict Chinese parenting model.)

Huang says his own immigrant mother was also a tiger mom. He recalls the time his mother demanded to know why he received three A-plus grades and two A’s on one seventh-grade report card, rather than five A-plus grades. He also recalled an earlier incident when he had a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. His mother scolded him.

“She told me that I had not only embarrassed myself, but also her, my entire immediate family, all Chinese people, all Asian people, all humans, and in fact all carbon-based life forms,” he says. He stopped going to the store, and concludes today that such negative motivators don’t work, at least on him.

The essay recounts Huang’s own experiences as a law student and law professor. He attended both the University of Chicago and Stanford law schools, and preferred the latter because of its “laid-back culture not infused and permeated with anxiety, fear, and hierarchy.” He tells of being denied tenure at the University of Pennsylvania, and feels free as a result to recount an associate dean’s comments about how schools game the rankings in U.S. News & World Report.

At the end of the essay, Huang says it was not meant to strike back at his tiger mom, who noticed a typo when she proofread his paper, or Amy Chua, who found his article insightful and funny.

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