The Texas State Board of Education will rewrite state standards for history, government and other social studies courses this year.
The last time this happened, in 2010, the whole process became — to put it bluntly — a circus. It embarrassed Texas before the eyes of the country and the world. That year, the board made hundreds of changes, often based not on facts but on personal political beliefs. The result is a set of standards that have been panned even by conservative think tanks as a “politicized distortion of history” that downplayed slavery as the cause of the Civil War, dismissed the separation of church and state, portrayed civil rights gains as having negative consequences, and much more.
Now, in 2022, a pair of board members have appointed a man who traffics in conspiracy theories about stolen elections and echoes white nationalist rhetoric to a panel that will advise the board on the standards.
This is troubling and a question needs to be asked: Is the SBOE about to bring the circus back to town?
The person in question is Stephen Balch, a former professor at Texas Tech University and co-founder of the conservative advocacy group National Association of Scholars. Conservative or liberal political views should not disqualify someone from serving on this panel. But his conspiracy theories and inflammatory rhetoric make Balch far too extreme to guide what public schools teach Texas children for a generation to come.
TFN is calling on the board to remove Balch from the panel as a step toward maintaining order in a process that will determine what an entire generation of students will learn in their Texas public schools.
What has Balch said?
Here are a few examples.
In August 2021, he co-authored an essay with John C. Eastman, a controversial attorney who had advised then-President Donald Trump on how to overturn the 2020 election. In their joint essay, Balch and Eastman falsely charged that President Joe Biden has “thrown open” the southern border as part of a broader effort to use immigration to “destroy traditional America by whatever means are deemed necessary and expedient.” Such claims echo white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theorists who argue that power-seeking elites seek to transform the country by replacing white Americans with immigrants.
Balch has also promoted the falsehood that widespread voter fraud cost President Trump reelection in 2020. He portrayed Biden’s victory as a “literal coup” by criminals and called on Trump supporters to “depart from politics as usual” and “stretch institutional bonds to a degree that genuinely alarms our conniving subverters.” He demanded that Trump “must now lead his followers into America’s streets and squares” and explore other ways to overturn the election.
In another attack on our constitutional system of government, Balch in 2015 joined others in calling on officials simply to disregard the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down same-sex marriage bans. And in his joint essay with Eastman, he called on states to assume “police powers” to seize control of international and even interstate borders. Such radical actions would risk one of the greatest constitutional crises in this country since the Civil War.
Why it matters
Balch’s appointment and the Texas Legislature’s passage last year of new laws that restrict what Texas schools can teach about our nation’s history raise serious concerns about the politicization of education in Texas. The social studies standards – the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS – lay out information schools must teach students.
It is critical that the SBOE get these standards right. Balch’s appointment is not a good sign and could result in the SBOE sending some harmful and distorted history lessons to our neighborhood public schools.
TFN and its partners are defending our neighborhood public schools and fighting back against censorship. Join us in this campaign to #TeachTheTruth in our schools.