A conservative scholar who questioned the 2020 presidential election results is involved in reviewing state social studies curriculum standards for public schools.
Stephen Balch, a former professor who also has opposed the 2015 Supreme Court ruling overturning state bans on same-sex marriage, is a content adviser for the revision of the standards that will guide social studies courses from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The Texas Freedom Network, a liberal group promoting religious freedom and education, is calling on the State Board of Education to withdraw Balch’s appointment, citing his writings calling the 2020 election a “literal coup,” among other things.
In an essay after President Joe Biden’s election, Balch questioned the integrity of the results, as did former President Donald Trump and other Republicans who continue to press unfounded concerns of widespread voter fraud.
“President Trump and his allies have rightly taken their case into the courts. But more needs to be accomplished. … So damn the COVID, the president must now lead his followers into America’s streets and squares. They must especially flock to the capitol complexes of all the critical states and register indignant protest,” he wrote Nov. 30, 2020, for the conservative website American Greatness.
Balch suggested departing from “politics as usual” and argued for “a willingness to stretch institutional bonds.”
“At this late stage in our political degeneration nothing less will suffice,” he added.
Texas Freedom Network leaders said Balch’s “conspiracy theories, inflammatory rhetoric and shocking contempt for our constitutional and democratic institutions make him unfit for this role.”
Balch serves on a panel of content advisers who provide feedback on the curriculum standards at the beginning and end of the review process.
Same-sex marriage, immigration enforcement
The group also pointed to Balch’s support of a letter urging officials to disregard the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against bans on same-sex marriage as an example of another “attack on our constitutional system of government”.
“This is a person who echoes offensive conspiracy theories of white nationalists and others who are trying to undermine our faith in our democracy and constitution,” said Carisa Lopez, political director for the group. “He’s too extreme to be guiding what public schools teach students.”
In an August essay with conservative lawyer John C. Eastman, Balch also outlined how states should intervene in border and immigration enforcement, a task historically left to the federal government, claiming the U.S.-Mexico border had “been thrown open by the Biden Administration”.
“This is not only a violation of the presidential oath to defend the Constitution and the laws enacted under it, but part and parcel of a larger project to transform our civic order through demographic change,” he wrote.
Experts have said recent upticks in border crossings are a result of some Biden policy changes combined with worsening circumstances in migrants’ home countries.
Balch holds a doctorate in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and championed the study of Western civilization at several universities, including Texas Tech.
He also is co-founder of the National Association of Scholars, a conservative nonprofit that has advocated for “intellectual freedom” and challenges to affirmative action in higher education.
He called Texas Freedom Network’s statements “pure defamation” and said the views he expressed were “similar to those expressed by many other commentators and public officials.”
“They’re neither ‘white nationalist’ nor ‘conspiratorial’ types of thinking with which I have nothing to do,” he said in an email to the American-Statesman.
“In any event, the purpose of the TEKS review in social studies and history is to enrich content knowledge in a serious and balanced way, and my service as a content advisor aims at promoting those ends, not debating the issues of the day,” he added.
Initial social studies review
The review process, which is carried out by the State Board of Education with help from content advisers and working groups, is still in early stages, but Lopez called Balch’s appointment “an ominous warning” that the process is likely to face political controversy, especially in the wake of recently passed laws limiting teachers’ discussions of topics such as race in schools.
In his initial review, done in December, Balch approved, with some exceptions, the current social studies standards, developed in 2010. The standards were criticized for “offering misrepresentations” by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank that conducted a national review of U.S. history standards in 2011.
Balch suggested changes such as replacing the high school courses of sociology and psychology with one on “Genocide and Mass Murder,” which he said “would review the 20th century occurrence of these all-too-common crimes.”
For high school U.S. history classes, the current standards require analysis of the “effects of the Great Depression on the U.S. economy and society such as widespread unemployment and deportation and repatriation of people of Mexican heritage.”
Balch suggested replacing “people of Mexican heritage” with “undocumented Mexican nationals in the United States.” Other scholars have said many of those deportations included Mexican American citizens.
In the standards for the elective African American studies high school course, Balch recommended replacing the term “mass incarceration” in the analysis of social injustices from 1960 to the present with “high incarceration rates,” which he said is “more judgmentally neutral.”
“Let the issue be discussed rather than prejudged,” he wrote.
Balch was appointed by board members Tom Maynard, R-Florence, and Jay Johnson, R-Pampa, according to the Texas Freedom Network. Neither responded to calls from the Statesman.
Lopez said Texas Freedom Network also expects to express its concerns at the board’s meetings this week.