Scepticism not cynicism

At a ceremony, last week to open the new building of a local boys school, the engaging Huw Edwards (he of BBC News fame) left us all with this thought: scepticism not cynicism. He was praising the schools approach to teaching and their emphasis on questioning and thinking, not only in English and Religious Education. This is the heart of metacognition and becoming a meta-learner – children who ask why, not because they are stalling for time, but because they are genuinely interested and want to dig deeper.

Scepticism is open-minded

Scepticism is an open-minded way of thinking about things. Cynicism, on the other hand, is close-minded because it is often a quick reaction or immediate belief that someone is being dishonest. You could link this to the concept of Growth and Fixed mindset: are you willing to consider the concept or idea presented? Neuroplasticity teaches children that their brain can change and there are simple actions that they can take to make this happen. The cynical or fixed minded will hear that information and then decide it is not possible or relevant for them, they will dismiss the evidence and stick with the position that they will never be able to change their brain.

Think of the power when you flip that on its head. By asking questions and thinking about neural pathways, a child can begin to engage with the concept and test it out for themselves. They might sensibly look at it from multiple angles and multiple times. The cynic, or the Eeyore of the party, has a general lack of belief in the potential of change or chances of success.

Scepticism builds decision making skills

Scepticism helps you make better decisions. But like all important skills, balance is key. If I encouraged all our pupils to constantly ask why, I might find the phone ringing constantly with parents entreating us to dial down the questions…! Understandably, we want a healthy mindset to have a tendency to demand evidence when encountering new information; this is directed towards information and knowledge. One of the Habits of Mind is ‘gathering data through all senses’ and just like a journalist, I say go and dig into the sources and find out what should be trusted. 

Scepticism is necessary for the job market

Scepticism is a key skill for people that sift through information at work and yes this is everyone. Emotions, data, emails, social media, sales statistics, phone calls – it’s all information. Preparing pupils for the 11+ exams is not the short-term goal. I founded Meta Prep to ensure that preparing for senior school is a fun and enriching experience built on a strong foundation of learning principles. The goal is to get children thinking deeply, equipping them with a ‘metacognitive’ toolkit so that they understand how to learn and are set for life, able to sail through the 11+ and onto their next challenge with confidence. Our aim is for children to take ownership of their own learning, to know that their thinking is malleable and to understand their motivations in order to fulfil their true potential.

So what does this look like at home? How do you encourage that line of thinking?

  1. Pause and wait – do not always answer or shut down the line of questioning. Allow children to get out their thoughts. Require them to articulate in more detail why this is important.
  2. Ask open-ended questions.
  3. Encourage your child to go and find the information or answers themselves. However, be prepared to make time to listen and discuss it further. You need to model that this is important to you.
A Compare / Contrast Thinking Frame

All of our Thinking Frames, a key part of our Metacognitive Toolkit, invite a reflective lens question. This encourages deeper thinking and reflection. Helping children understand scepticism as a positive trait is a key part of being able to think critically and genuinely assess new opportunities that they are offered. What more do we need when developing critical and curious thinking?

We offer after-school classes, in small groups or 1:1 sessions that help children to master English and Maths and teach them how to problem solve. Our Cognitive Coach works with your child to develop their study skills and re-motivate them. Book in a call to discuss how we can help your children’s thinking develop further.