Saturday, May 22, 2004
For many African parents, raising their children in Diaspora (particularly the U.S) is a very daunting and challenging task. The reasons are many, including the culture of the society, which gives enormous powers to the child. Torn between two cultures, African parents are therefore in a dilemma as to where to raise their children. Those who have the infrastructure and courage to send their children back home to Africa (in the care of their relatives) to get familiarized with the African culture have many things to be thankful for. While completing their high school education, some of them seize the opportunity to know their uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and grandparents, and to grow up in an environment where morality and good character education are relatively regarded.
But a few of the misinformed African parents in Diaspora who have argued that those who ?ship? their children home are ?callous? and ?selfish? seem to forget that there is no substitute for a good education anchored on progressive traditional African values. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an African child to acquire a good western education with a blend of African cultural and traditional values in Diaspora. Because the system lacks the tools to teach African culture and tradition and virtues such as obedience and respect for the elders/higher authorities, to care for parents at old age (not dumping them in old folks? home), community orientation, good moral character and behavior, among others. Common sense shows that if the culture and tradition of a people perishes, the group also perishes.
Culture is basically the way of life of a people. It is ?the social and religious structures and intellectual and artistic manifestations, etc that characterize a society.? Every group of people has values ? the DO?S and DON?T that are better learned by living with and observing the people of that particular society interacting with one another. Obviously, some behaviors that are acceptable in one society could be an abomination in another. If one may ask, are the African children raised in traditional African societies better behaved than the ones raised in Diaspora? The answer to these questions would vary from individuals, but the general consensus is that because of environmental factors African children raised in Diaspora often display behaviors that, under normal circumstances, would not be tolerated or accepted in a traditional African society.
Many African parents in Diaspora are worried about that, because they want their children to acquire their traditional African cultural heritage ? that is, African children with African traditions! How would one achieve this objective in a society where the court and child and family counselors (some of whom are not married) dictate for parents how to raise their children? In courts in the United States it is the child against their parents (or the wife against her husband). Such condition, which gives the child unlimited powers and freedom, undermine parental control and guidance. It is also detrimental to family cohesion and the mental growth and moral development of the child and makes parenting more challenging for the African parents? alien to the culture. Thus, for the culture of a people to flourish the people must posses the appropriate character and the moral foundations to cultivate and sustain it. Loyalty to that culture and tradition must be instilled in the people at an early age.
Meanwhile, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, defined good character as the life of right conduct -right conduct in relation to other persons and in relation to oneself (Palmer, 1986). Therefore, character counts! Therefore, good character consists of knowing the good, desiring the good, and doing the good (habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of action); respect for the rights of others; regard for the law of the land and concern for the common good, among others.
Convention dictates that these virtues are necessary for leading a moral life for the individuals and the nation. Any society in which the majority of its citizens exhibit behaviors antithetical to its fundamental values would be faced with constant ?moral crisis.? Historically, three social institutions share the work of moral education in a society: the home, the church, and the school. The influence of western culture on these institutions and the African homes in Diaspora is myriad: divorce is rampant and single-parent African homes are springing up; and some African couples are just hanging on together without commitment and love for each other. This itchy condition, which is not conducive to raising good children, is causing an upsurge in dysfunctional African children in Diaspora.
Consequently, some of them have joined the gangs, doing drugs, stealing and killing, sexual precocity, rising teenage pregnancy and prostitution, and cutting classes or dropping out of school and other self-destructive behaviors. The environment has also affected the schools - the many laws in the society have stripped schoolteachers the powers to discipline students and make them to do their class work. In some cases, the teacher becomes a passive on-looker in the classroom filling up forms and documenting students? misbehaviors, instead of teaching. But in a traditional African school system teachers have the authority to discipline and correct students? bad behavior. The churches are not spared either; with the rampant child molestation cases, they are no longer what they used to be.
As Theodore Roosevelt was credited to have said ?to educate a person in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace in society.? Through discipline and teacher?s good example and school curriculum, schools should instruct children in the virtues of patriotism, hard work, honesty, altruism, and courage. Due to circumstances beyond their control (some are already mentioned above) many families are incapable of giving their children the necessary moral education at home, but common sense dictates that the family is the primary moral educator of the child and their most enduring influence. As Lickona (1991) has rightly noted, how well parents teach their children to respect their authorities would lay the foundation for their future moral growth. When these institutions fail to play their role well, forces hostile to good character rush in to fill the void.
The question, therefore, becomes how could parents perform their important traditional functions if and when their powers are diluted or completed stripped? Nevertheless, because of the importance of moral education to the moral health of the African children, neither the school nor the family should be a neutral bystander in good character education of the African youth. As Friedrich Nietzsche notes in On the Genealogy of Morals, ?if something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in.? It is appropriate to note that societies since the time of Plato have made moral education a deliberate aim of schooling. They educated for good character as well as intellect, decency as well as literacy, virtue as well as knowledge; they tried to form citizens who would use their intelligence to benefit others as well as themselves, so as to build a better world. As people began to worship money and material wealth (with less regard for good character) support for old-fashioned character education crumbled with morality taking a nosedive.
However, despite the negative influences of the West on African schools, the environment back home in Africa is relatively better for ?good moral education? of the African children than what is obtainable in Diaspora. Sadly, many of the African youths raised in Diaspora know little or nothing about Africa other than the distorted and negative views the Western media house has about the continent. It is, therefore, imperative for African parents in Diaspora to give their children appropriate and realistic information about Africa to dispel the negative perceptions the developed world has about Africa. Towards this Opoku-Owusu (AFFORD, July 2003) has urged Africans in Diaspora to influence the media to change the negative perceptions the developed world has about Africa.
But the big question is how would the African child get the appropriate information if he/she were not given the opportunity to live in an African society? Experts in human development have noted that "values education" enables a society to survive and thrive, and to keep intact and grow toward conditions that support full human development of all its members. As noted earlier, it seems an uphill task to conduct moral education in an individualistic and materialistic pop-culture of the Western world -a society that ?emphasizes materialism at the expense? of good moral behavior. Often times, some of the married African ladies in Diaspora that are imitating the negative part of the western culture are causing some friction and fracture in the African homes. The society gives ladies unlimited powers, thereby transforming some of them into super-ladies that dictate and often refuse to follow their husband?s advice. This type of behavior, which is common in the United States among those who erroneously think that they could do well financially without their husband, often leads to disunity and broken homes and makes the upbringing of their children more cumbersome. Families bedeviled by such problems have often ended up raising frustrated and dysfunctional children.
Nevertheless, because of heavy economic burden on parents many of them have multiple jobs that allow them little or no time for good parental care -disciplines, controlling who their children associate with, doing homework, cleaning the house, cooking and other house chores. But in a more relaxed and "less materialistic/competitive" and community-oriented traditional African society, the wife is often at home with the children. More importantly, in African societies it "takes a whole community to raise a child" - the neighbor, uncle, cousin, niece, nephew or ?even a stranger? assists in raising a child in the absence of the biological parents. Obviously, this is not possible in Diaspora!
As William Kilpatrict noted in "Why Johnny can?t Tell Right from Wrong" (Lickona 1991), ?the core problem facing our schools [and our homes] is a moral one. All the other problems derive from it.? These virtues could help the child to think and behave appropriately. As William Bennett noted in The Book of Virtues ?a person who is morally literate will [ceteris paribus] be immeasurably better equipped than a morally illiterate person to reach a reasoned and ethically defensible position on tough issues.? The excursion to the land of ancient and modern philosophers? highlights the dilemma African parents are facing in raising their children in Diaspora. The society that does not subscribe to the African traditional values is not helping them to inculcate a good sense of African culture and tradition in their children. That is frustrating, to say the least!
The African child needs a good quality Western education as well as a good training in progressive African culture to be a worthy ambassador of Africa in Diaspora. As the Diaspora News of Sunday of 22 Feb 2004 notes: ?there need to strike a balance between African traditional values and those of individualistic society of North America;? because ?when people learn to do good and love the good, they take delight in doing the good.? To fill the void created by the scarcity (or lack) of educational institutions that offer instructions in African culture, Africans in Diaspora should come together and establish such educational centers that could teach progressive African cultures to the children of African descent and others interested in African culture. To solve a problem of this magnitude African leaders in Diaspora must be proactive. Proactive problem solving, as experts have noted, includes designing the future we want and finding the most effective way to get there.
Victor E. Dike, CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHD) Sacramento, California, is the author of Nigeria and the Politics of Unreason: A Study of the Obasanjo Regime [London: Adonis & Abbey Publishers, Nov 20, 2003].