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California Sixth-Grade Textbooks Frame Climate Change As Uncertain

56352515@N00 / Flickr

56352515@N00 / Flickr

Sixth-grade is usually the first time California students are formally taught about climate change as part of their science curriculum. A recent study shows some textbooks present the subject as a debate stemming from opinions rather than science.

Stanford and Southern Methodist University researchers analyzed the language in four sixth grade science textbooks from major publishers. All were published in 2008 and adopted for use in California. 

The authors found that the books contain language that frames climate change as possibly happening and that humans may or may not be causing it. Fewer than three percent of scientists refute climate change. But when attributing information to scientists, the textbooks used verbs like “believe”, “think”, or “propose.” Rarely were scientists said to be drawing conclusions from evidence or data.

“What’s happening is that if you just leave it as the general ‘some scientists agree’ teachers will have to interpret what does the ‘some’ mean, it could be 60 percent, 40 percent, so it’s up to the teacher, it’s up to the student to interpret that,” says Diego Román, with Southern Methodist University and co-author of the study.

The authors say the textbooks discussed the impact of climate change in hypothetical terms. Some suggested that global warming could be beneficial. Some states have begun adopting new national standards for science education, but the textbooks in the study are still in use. 

The study was published in the journal Environmental Education Research. 

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Amy Quinton

Former Environment Reporter

Amy came to Sacramento from New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) where she was Environment Reporter. Amy has also reported for NPR member stations WFAE in Charlotte, WAMU in Washington D.C. and American Public Media's "Marketplace."  Read Full Bio 

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