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Charlotte A. Crabtree

Professor of Education Emeritus

UC Los Angeles

1927 – 2006


Charlotte Crabtree’s contributions to UCLA began with her work as an elementary demonstration teacher in behalf of novice teachers; continued by giving curriculum and instructional services to schools and state educational agencies; mentoring candidates for degrees in education and fulfilling leadership roles in the Graduate School of Education. Her driving scholarly concern centered on a) the relation between subject matter knowledge in the social science disciplines and the academic content of the k-12 school curriculum and b) the pedagogy by which teachers could engage learners in activities that would make powerful knowledge understandable and relevant to their lives. It was this concern that culminated in state and national projects that exerted great national influence on curriculum content and methods informing students about their nation and history of the world.


Charlotte was born in Los Angeles but moved at age 2 with her mother, Lydia Weinholz Crabtree, younger sister, Esther, and father, John Crabtree to the Weinholz family South Dakota farm, experiencing early childhood in rural life during the depression period. In 1933 the family moved to St. Louis Missouri, John Crabtree’s home -town where a brother, Robert, was born in 1934.The Crabtrees returned to Los Angeles in 1941 where Charlotte attended first Belmont High School and then Catholic Girls’ High School from which she graduated with honors.


Charlotte graduated from UCLA in 1948 with a degree in history and then taught at Washington Elementary School in Santa Monica until 1950 when she became a demonstration teacher at the UCLA University Elementary School. At UES she implemented innovative units of instruction that engaged children in high level thinking as they enacted challenging events drawn from historical events such as the western movement of the pioneers and understanding the world through the study of aviation. 


In 1954 Charlotte received a Master’s degree in education from UCLA and subsequently was employed as a lecturer in the Education Department teaching courses for those preparing to be elementary school teachers. Howard Wilson, a new dean of education at UCLA, encouraged her to seek the doctorate and in 1958 she began studies at Stanford University. There she held a half time instructor’s position for two years before completing her PhD in 1962. At Stanford Charlotte won the respect of stellar professors-Thomas, Coladarci, Edwards, Hanna, and Shaftel for her sensitivity skills, intelligence, scholarship, and professional dedication. Indeed she co-authored research publications with Shaftel while a student.


Charlotte was appointed assistant professor in the UCLA School of Education in 1961 where she distinguished herself by serving on the executive boards of many professional organizations, as a speaker and consultant to educational groups and agencies, author of textbooks for teachers of the social studies as well as research articles related to students learning academic content while enhancing their levels of thinking, In addition she met teaching responsibilities for credential candidates (UCLA Associated Students’ Award Outstanding Professor 1961) and for teaching and mentoring graduate students. As she advanced in academic ranks, Charlotte assumed administration roles in the Department of Education such as vice chairman, chair of the specializations in Childhood Schooling, and Curriculum, She served as associate director of UES and as a leader in structuring organizational divisions of the newly formed Graduate School of Education. Her administrative performance in assignments regarding both programs and matters of academic personnel showed a sense of detail and an ability to deal with factions in making organizational change but were undertaken without the same enthusiasm she had for curriculum and student learning.


In 1986 Charlotte embarked on a project that would launch her preeminent role in determining what schools would teach about history. She was chosen to be the principal co-writer for the California History-Social Studies Framework (with Diane Ravitch). Although the framework was developed in keeping with principles consistent with the philosophy of the Bradley Commission, a group of historians who combined traditional views of U.S. History and Western Civilization with world history sensibilities and sympathy for multicultural approaches. Charlotte featured ways to engage students with historical events through stories and episodes to which students reacted saying what they would or should have done in the situations. The framework made California the national leader in insisting that pre-collegiate education include three years of U.S. History and three of World History. Attracting the admiration of many educators and emulated in many states, the framework led to Charlotte’s installation on national panels and boards concerned with the historical illiteracy that was thought to be rampant not only in K-12 school children but in undergraduate college students as well.


The apex of Charlotte’s career came after writing a proposal for establishing a National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS), funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Against stiff competition, UCLA won the million-dollar grant. Directing this center occupied the last decade of Crabtree’s career before her retirement in 1993 and recall in 1994. NCHS’s main responsibility was to build a bridge between history educators in the schools and those in colleges and universities, something akin to building a bridge across the Grand Canyon given that decades had separated k-12 history teachers from historians in higher education. The climax of NCHS’s work under Charlotte’s direction was constructing the National History Standards, mandated by Congress and funded by NEH and the U.S. Department of Education. From 1991 to 1994 the standards project was co-directed with Professor Gary B. Nash of UCLA’s Department of History, a scholar oriented to multicultural contributions in the forming of the Nation and the history of the world. The project involved 31 organizations and many hundreds of teachers and professors of history but the consensus building effort ran into stiff opposition from conservative and ultra-patriotic groups. Never the less ever since their publication in1994 and a revised edition in 1996, the standards have influenced textbook writers and publishers, school administrators, curriculum specialists, policy makers of state and local history standards, and – most important -teachers in the schools. For the later the standards were important not only for providing new content-driven approaches to history that were consonant with the scholarship of the last generation of historians but providing the argument that the content of history could be a platform for civic education only if it was infused with historical thinking skills that emphasized active leaning, historical analysis, acumen, problem solving savvy, and an appreciation for multiple perspectives on the human past. Crabtree’s death in 2006 is a great loss to history educators at all levels of schooling.



John D. McNeil

Gary B. Nash