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Book Reflection: Shadows of the Neanderthal

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

Imagine my surprise when I opened up the mail and saw that one of the required reading books for a masters course was a picture book (even more surprising was a required reading book cost less than $20). I had serious doubts about what I would be able to learn from this story, but it ended up being the only book that I kept from my masters program.

The story, which is essentially a version of Plato's Parable of the Cave, centers around a caveman named Boogie, who is one of five cavemen that live in a cave. They eat only what the wind blows in, see only shadows of animals on the wall, and each has their own theory on what will happen if they leave (or even face the front of the cave) - all of which end in death. After some time, Boogie begins to question their life and, as so often occurs when people ask questions that make others uncomfortable, Boogie is attacked and forced to leave the cave. After leaving his comfort zone, Boogie is able to see world as it was, instead of just shadows on the wall. Without spoiling the rest of the book, the story is all about mental models, beliefs that make order in a complicated the world. They are self-supporting systems, often subconscious, that shape how we view the world, react to situations, and live our lives. Sadly, these mental models are often as incomplete as Boogie's worldview as a cave-dweller.

The epilogue of the book discusses our the Ladder of Influence (pictured right) works and can often create self-fulfilling prophecies. We observe data, filter it, make assumptions and conclusions on it, update our beliefs, and then take action on it. The actions we take produce new pools of data which restarts the cycle; the problem is that is often biases the data we receive.

We can create our own little echo chamber where the only opinions we hear are those that agree with us. If all we ever do is surround ourselves with people that look, think, and teach like us - we will never make any progress. Social media can make this impact even more extreme, we can choose to have thousands of people reinforce our beliefs or we can be a little uncomfortable and seek out those that will challenge us.

I currently follow about two hundred educators on Twitter and there probably is a great deal of teachers that I mostly agree with, but there are also those who challenge me and make me reevaluate several beliefs I hold on my classroom practice. There have been several occasions over the last year that when I've considered the arguments and data presented by other educators that I have realized I was wrong and have adjusted the way I operate my classroom. There have also been other times where I see decisions come down to individual preference and others that I think the teachers I follow had a lapse in judgement and have done something crazy. Regardless, it's important that we not confine ourselves to the world as we like to and have always seen it. There's a great big old world out there waiting for us to explore and discover, why would we resign ourselves to live in a cave?

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