‘Dead White Guys’ Are Worth Studying Today. And Syria Proves Why.

Speaking about the content offered by Common Core, publishing executive Kim Koerber complained about how Texas kept “screwing it up over and over again” by insisting that text books focus on the Founding Fathers.

In the video, which comes thanks to James O’Keefe and Project Veritas, Koerber added:

“The dead white guys did not create this country. It was a whole bunch of different kinds of people. And, yes, there were women, and, yes, there were people of color, and yes – and you need to talk about them, too. But they want to talk about those dead white guys.”

For several decades now, minorities in the U.S. have been asking: Why should we study the history of white Europeans, when we’re not related to them? To be fair, it’s a sensible question.

Photo source: Americans for Prosperity
Photo source: Americans for Prosperity

But it has a sensible answer: Even though you didn’t inherit DNA from them, you did inherit a political system from them. And it turns out to be a pretty decent political system, when you consider the alternatives (more on that in a moment).

Granted, there are well-known problems with what the Founding Fathers left behind for us; notably, the U.S. Constitution didn’t prohibit slavery and didn’t grant universal suffrage. These are fair criticisms, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

But the “dead white guys” line of criticism is utter hyperbole. It suggests that studying the Founders (and their European forebears) is entirely antiquated, outdated, and chauvanistic. Really? It’s not as if our interest in them is simply the expression of a racist, sexist preference for Caucasian males. (And if it’s silly to study them because they’re dead, then why bother learning about Martin Luther King Jr., either?)

No, the reason they’re worth studying is because they created a political structure that was a big improvement over the others that reigned during their time, and that was able to endure and to improve itself into what we enjoy today.

That’s not ancient history, it’s living history whose relevance can be summed up to the teenage students of today in one word: Syria.

Syria, of course, is a nightmare right now. But it’s a nightmare that would have been entirely familiar to the Founders. The terror you see in Syria today is a 21st-century version of the history that the 18th-century Founders sought to leave behind.

Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, after all, was a toxic mix of sectarian violence and monarchial ambition. Catholics and Protestants routinely massacred one another in episodes that are almost indistinguishable from the violence you now see between Sunnis and Shiites in Syria and Iraq.

And, just as European kings and popes tried to manipulate religious fervor in order to claim ever greater executive power for themselves, today’s Middle East leaders – autocrats and wannabe autocrats – insist that they should be allowed to keep a tight reign over their countries, lest the sectarian violence lead to chaos.

Then as now, people are told they have to choose tyranny over anarchy.

But instead, the Founding Fathers created a system that was meant to evolve and grow away from what you see in Syria and toward what we have now: a country where we vote for our leaders, peacefully transitioning from one to the next; a country without any preferred religion or aristocracy; a country that will accept and include people based on nothing other than their commitment to liberty.

That’s why “dead white guys” are relevant and worth studying. If – in the midst of current events such as the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State – Koerber and other educators can’t figure out how to make the Founding Fathers relevant to the kids of today, then they have no understanding of American history.

And they certainly have no business teaching it.

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