Back To School? Add Doubt to Your Curriculum.

It’s that time of year again. Most students who attend public and private schools have started classes or are just about to start them. Even many home educated students take a summer break from their academic work and are facing the same situation. While there have been many different “back to school” articles written over the past few weeks, I think this one offers one of the more interesting messages. It talks about doubt and how you should not suppress it in your students.

The article is written by Dr. Kara Powell, who is on the faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary and is also the executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute. She talks about how it is natural for students to have doubts, and the last thing you should do is try to ignore those doubts or sweep them under the rug. Instead, you should encourage your students to express them, and you should address them as best you can. How does she come to this conclusion? She bases it on a study done by the Fuller Youth Institue. I wrote about a preliminary version of the study previously. It has grown since then, and the results are very interesting.

The study in its current form followed 500 youth-group graduates during their first three years in college. One of the main findings was that students who feel free to express doubts about their faith are more likely to be strongly active in their faith than those who do not. As a result, Dr. Powell says:

Doubt in and of itself isn’t toxic. It’s unexpressed doubt that becomes toxic.

That’s why she says that you need to foster an environment where students feel comfortable expressing their doubts. I couldn’t agree more.

The homeschool setting is especially good for fostering such an environment. Because homeschool schedules are flexible, you can spend time concentrating on topics and issues that are not central to your curriculum. For example, suppose while you are studying history one of your children asks, “Why would God allow a terrible tragedy like the black plague to happen?” That’s an excellent question, and it deserves to be investigated. The question of why an all-good God who is all-powerful allows evil to exist has been asked time and time again throughout the history of Christendom. However, your child’s question is a unique version, and it deserves some unique investigation.

Perhaps William Lane Craigs’ answer is the one that will speak to your child. Perhaps it’s Gregory Koukl’s answer or Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense. If nothing else, looking into the issue will allow your student to realize that his or her doubts are not unique and that Christians have proposed answers to address them.

In the end, encourage your children to express their doubts, and diligently look for materials that will help them find the answers they need. Not only is this necessary for a strong education, Dr. Powell contends that it is necessary for a strong faith!

29 thoughts on “Back To School? Add Doubt to Your Curriculum.”

  1. Hi Dr. Jay,

    I found your blog about a week ago and have been reading a lot of your articles, including the comments. I am really encouraged by your patience with those that hold different views. It seems I have much to learn in that area.

    I would like to homeschool my future kids( I am a recent college graduate and not even close to marrying). However, I’ve heard that children who are homeschooled don’t develop great social skills. Is this true? Growing up, I have met peers who were homeschooled and this seems to be atleast partially true.


    1. Thanks for your kind words, Isaac. In answer to your question, the data indicate that homeschooled students do not suffer any problems when it comes to socialization. You may want to read this article, which discusses different researchers and how they can find no evidence that homeschooled students are any less socialized than their peers. This book is a great review of the current research, if you really want to explore the issue in depth.

      I think your personal experiences are biased in the sense that you remember people differently. When you meet someone from public or private school who cannot handle social situations, you tend to think of that person as a strange individual and nothing more. When you meet a homeschooled child with poor social skills, you tend to remember that child as an example of a poorly-socialized homeschooler. If you were to actually keep records of which poorly-socialized person was homeschooled and which was not, you would probably find that the percentage of poorly-socialized homeschoolers is the same as the percentage of poorly-socialized publicly- and privately-schooled students. That’s the benefit of looking at research, where such record keeping is done.

  2. I’m in a similar position, Isaac. I’m not near marriage and kids yet, but I’m beginning to brace myself for it. I have also heard people say that homeschoolers have poor social skills, but I think the idea has very little merit. Aside from the information in the research that Dr. Wile presented, I have my own problem with the “socialization” argument against homeschooling.

    Proponents of this view seem to think that all social interaction is equal. They use “socialization” as a blanket term, failing to acknowledge that there are good and bad crowds that a child can socialize with. If you send your child to a public school, they may learn social skills, but what else will their society teach them? In a homeschool setting, a parent can ensure that their children learn social skills from good sources.

    1. Excellent point, Keith. I would add one more thought. When children are “socialized” in schools, it means spending an enormous amount of time with children their own age supervised by one authority figure who is thought of as the “enemy” by several of those children. When homeschooled children are socialized, it is with a broad range of ages supervised by one or more authority figures who are loved by several of the children. Which situation do you think produces positive social outcomes?

  3. Thank you for always providing links to articles and such. The mind can be so deceiving in what it chooses to record and not record.

    Could you provide some curriculum that you recommend? I’ve been trying to learn more about homeschooling, but there seems to be different philosophies on how to do so. Also, the Moore’s recommend homeschooling till atleast ages 8-10. Is there any research showing that homeschooling until college is better than homsechooling until middle school or vice versa?

    1. My pleasure, Isaac. I am glad that I can help. Let me answer your second question first. There is strong evidence that homeschooling through high school is the best way to go. For example, a study done by Lawrence Rudner, who once called homeschoolers “conservative nuts,” showed that relative to publicly-schooled students, homeschooled students make the most gains in high school. You can see that in figure 1 of his study. Also, students who are homeschooled K-12 do better than those who are homeschooled for only part of the K-12 years (figure 4 in the study). In addition, there are several lines of evidence which show that homeschool graduates perform better at university than their peers.

      In terms of curriculum, that’s a more difficult question to answer. There are many different curricula and many different philosophies in homeschooling specifically because there are many different kinds of learners. Unlike the school system believes, one size does not fit all when it comes to curriculum. Thus, finding a good curriculum for you will mean finding out what kind of learner you have. Most homeschoolers start with a set curriculum at first, and then as they learn more about their children, they start picking and choosing to find the best fit. Some of the better set curricula are found at Sonlight Curriculum, My Father’s World, Konos, Timberdoodle, and Living Books. My advice is to start with the one you like the most, and then see how your children respond to it.

  4. Isaac, I may be able to shed some more light on the issue from a completely different perspective.

    I’ve attended 9 different “normal” schools as well as being home-schooled for a number of years. The reason that I was home-schooled was that my parents were serving as missionaries in the North west of Mozambique (East Africa), and there was simply no alternative. My grasp of Portuguese is limited even now, and even if I’d known the language the local schools weren’t worth the time spent at them. (Incidentally the situation in Zimbabwe where we lived earlier was very different).

    Now my social skills are, by conventional* metrics, terrible. In fact when I was sent to a boarding school for a year so that I could sit some public exams, one fellow student devised an insult to the effect of “Yes, I can see you were home schooled” for that reason.

    The problem is that I’ve lived in 9 cities in three different countries over my school career. In many of these places I struggled to communicate and therefore or otherwise struggled to make friends. Even before my parents set out for the Mission field, I was already something of a reclusive geeky sort.

    Now if you met me and heard I had been homeschooled, that would probably reinforce the view that such students struggle socially. You don’t have to dig very far, however, to realize that there’s a host of other reasons that I am who and how I am.

    Overall if you base your judgement on individual anecdotal cases you cannot expect a reliable judgement; individual human beings are simply too distinctive.

  5. In the hyperlink for “a study” which leads to the study by Rudner, I was only able to read the abstract. Does it have the entire report as well? Also, couldn’t the data be skewed because the parents of homeschooled children tend to do better financially, have recieved higher education, etc? Were there studies that took that factor into account as well?

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sure you’re a great person! My dad is a missionary as well in Mexico and Cuba. And there are definitely a lot of things to learn as missionary kids such as gratitude, sacrifice, etc. I want to be a missionary in the future as well! Are you still in the mission field?

    1. Isaac, in order to get the full study, you have to subscribe to the journal. However, this link is a review of the study that shows the figures I mentioned in my first comment. While it is never possible to do any sociological study perfectly, other studies show that income and education level aren’t the drivers of homeschool success. Even if you look at homeschooled students’ achievement by parental income and parental education, the homeschooled students are way above average. In addition, remember that one thing Rudner did was compare students who were homeschooled throughout with students who were homeschooled part of the time. In that case, then, he is comparing homeschoolers to homeschoolers, and he still saw that fully-homeschooled students did better than partially-homeschooled students in the later years. Thus, there is something about homschooling itself that makes the difference.

  6. I’m a homeschooler, and though I’m a bit of an introvert I like to think that I have reasonably fine social skills. While it’s true that some of us tend to be a little more reserved, I know plenty of homeschoolers who are quite outgoing and friendly. We usually have activities like classes, co-ops, sports, and things like that, so we get opportunities to be social. 😉

    Great blog, Dr. Wile! I love your “Exploring Creation With…” series and am just starting the Biology book. Thanks for your wonderful work!

  7. Isaac, I’m a big fan of Apologia Science… Also, my entire family loves Sonlight. Abeka is good for English, and for math through sixth grade. After that, it’s awful. My math loving sister likes Saxon–I hated it. We also tried Tapistry of Grace–not a big hit. I hated Mystery of History for the year we used it, but I might like it better now (as a senior). Sonlight is still our favorite for history.

  8. I don’t see how offering only apologists’ answers to the problem of evil is respecting doubt. Can you recommend any atheists’ answers to the question?

    1. Mia, I don’t think you get the point of the post. I was talking about finding answers to the problem of evil. Atheists don’t propose answers to the problem of evil. They claim it is not answerable, which is obviously not true.

  9. Regarding socialization…students are all different. My oldest is somewhat of a social-butterfly who often organizes get-togethers at college. Middle son “claims” he doesn’t need other people, but isn’t short of friends at college, is liked, and is doing well. Youngest son is the most quiet, having been overshadowed by two brothers. But, at only 12, he can lead exercises during his karate classes.

    Regarding homeschool families having higher education and being better off financially…does data support this idea? Most of the homeschoolers I know are very thrifty and don’t necessarily have higher degrees. More education and money are not needed to homeschool. Most homeschoolers just want to do what’s best for their children.

  10. Isaac and Keith, if I can be of any encouragement, I’ve homeschooled eight children for the last 22 years. They range all over the place personality-wise, from social butterfly to quiet introvert, but what I’ve found is that homeschooling has allowed us as parents to mediate the parts of their personalities that might have caused trouble of one sort or another in a typical school setting. For example, the most stereotypically “geeky” child, who would almost certainly have been isolated at school, is now a successful financial analyst in a large oil company, about to be married, and has as many friends as he wants. The most socially outgoing, who has also been the most subject to going along with the crowd, has now become strong in his faith and not afraid to be different because of it, due to discipline we’ve had to exert when he slipped in that regard.

    In terms of curriculum, I’ve found it very helpful to belong to a satellite school that keeps our records and offers consultations, while allowing me to use different curricula with different children. We’re Catholic, and use the classically-based Mother of Divine Grace School program (, but I’m sure there are other similar programs out there.

    Ultimately, however, parents are the primary providers of education for their children, whether or not they do it themselves or delegate to an outside provider. Either way, the best outcomes result from constant monitoring and not being afraid to change course when the need arises.

  11. wow. Thank you everyone for the suggestions and experiences. Does effective homeschooling require atleast one parent to be at home? If both parents are working, is it still possible? I know some people get private tutors, but is that as effective?

    Sorry for the continuous barrage of questions! Thanks for helping out!

    1. Isaac, please do not apologize for asking questions. That’s how we learn. When my daughter was in high school, both my wife and I worked, and she did quite well. Even in the case where you have to hire a tutor, I think that still produces better educational outcomes than the schools. After all, the higher the instructor-to-student ratio, the better!

  12. Okay! I will ask as many questions as I want!

    So when you left your daughter at home, did she just know her curriculum and her daily requirements and just complete them while you were at work?

    1. That’s essentially how it worked, Isaac. Before I left for work each morning, I reviewed her previous day’s work with her, talked over any difficulties she was having, and gave her assignments to complete for that day. In the evening, I would look over those assignments so that I could review them with her the next morning. In the end, the only subject I really “taught” her in high school was math, because that was something she was unable to do independently. Other than that, I was simply the assignment-maker, grader, and tutor.

  13. That sounds pretty cool and a great way to still be deeply involved in their lives. Thank you for your insight!

  14. I’ve always had trouble with Math. However, I am now taking College Algebra at our local community college and I’ve found that having a professional math teacher has done wonders for my understanding of math, particularly functions. Also, it is difficult to learn a foreign language at home.
    Warning: Stay away from Switched-On Schoolhouse. Most obnoxious software on the face of the planet.

    1. Certainly, Mia. David Hume is the first who comes to mind. In his classic Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, he presents the problem through the character of Philo. Other characters, Demea and Cleanthes, try to offer solutions. In the end, Philo does not accept any of them. While he accepts the possibility that some evil could exist in a world created by an all-good, all-powerful God, he contends that the level of evil that is in the world is simply too great. He says in relationship to God’s goodness: “…as this goodness is not antecedently established, but must be inferred from the phenomena, there can be no grounds for such an inference, while there are so many ills in the universe, and while these ills might so easily have been remedied, as far as human understanding can be allowed to judge on such a subject.”

      A more recent example would be Bruce Russell. In the book The Evidential Argument from Evil, his chapter is called “Defenseless.” In it, he claims to refute the arguments of theists and concludes, “Because the hypotheses which are offered to save theism are unlikely on what we know, theism is defenseless against the evidential arguments from evil.”

  15. Isaac, to add one more bit of encouragement about the socialization thing. I’m a homeschool grad who’s in college now and I know several other homeschool grads and we’ve all been told that we’re “too normal” to possibly have been homeschooled. So homeschoolers don’t necessarily stick out as such. Now what it says about teh social skills of the people who find out you were homeschooled and they then stare in awe and say ” But your not WEIRD enough to be a homeschooler!!!!!!!! You’re so NORMAL.” I’m not sure. 🙂

    And Dr. Wile, clearly it’s dangerous to not check this blog for over a month- there are far too many interesting posts up that are distracting me from my P-Chem homework and lab report!

    Back to the thermo…


Comments are closed.