Bringing History to Life : Here’s hoping UCLA can come up with another historic result

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War has made “rattling good history; but Peace is poor reading,” Thomas Hardy once said. All too often that’s the way history and social studies have been taught in schools. When “history” is reduced to a stupefying litany of important dates and famous people, learning history becomes the dreary, irrelevant task too many of us remember. Absent is the interplay of diverse cultures and the nuanced reflections of personal experience that inject meaning into dry historical events.

No surprise, then, that poll after poll finds Americans ignorant of basic historical events and trends, not to mention ignorant of key, related fields like geography and economics.

The long, slow “decline” of history has many causes. Chief among them has been a national emphasis in recent decades on teaching basic skills, like reading and computation, to the detriment of history and social studies, and the focus of many historians on publication and debate directed largely toward a small circle of academic scholars.


So it is welcome news that the U.S. Department of Education is giving $1.6 million to UCLA to help establish national standards for teaching history in elementary and secondary schools. The two-year grant goes to UCLA’s National Center for History in the Schools. The center’s curriculum standards, due by 1994, will be recommended to all U.S. public schools.

UCLA’s selection follows its participation in the recent effort to draft a new social studies curriculum for California. That drafting process was fractious, but the final product, being taught this year, integrates economics and geography, and the study of many cultures, into the history curriculum. The new curriculum guidelines bring history alive. Here’s hoping UCLA can come up with another historic result, this time on behalf of all American schoolchildren.