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SCOTT DREYER: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

All things are connected. 

-Chief Seattle

In 1999 when I moved back to my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia after a ten-year teaching stint in Taiwan, I was blessed to be hired to teach the honors 9th grade history program in The Center for Humanities at Patrick Henry High School. The English teacher I was to coordinate with had a favorite phrase–”All things are connected”–which we referred to throughout the year as we urged our students to be able to make connections in their learning, instead of viewing their education as a bunch of random bits and pieces of data. 

That was a major reason we team-taught English and history: to help our students better make connections among the content and disciplines. That is in contrast to the way traditional school normally operates: “English is English, history is history, etc.”

No wonder so many kids are bored, and frankly many are not learning much. 

Over the years, I so liked the phrase and repeated it so much, it became a kind of personal and professional mantra of mine. So much so, some students had the (false) impression I had coined the phrase. I told them the quotation was original to Chief Seattle, and that teachers just “borrow liberally.”

The longer I teach, the more I realize one sign of a well-trained mind is the ability to make connections among facts, even if they are learned in different places and at different times. 

In contrast, sadly, one sign of a simple mind is passively accepting everything at face value and seeing all learning and new input as random and unrelated. 

Some years ago I was reading how astronomers at a high-tech observatory on a high mountain in Hawaii could tell when it was spring planting time in China. All those countless Chinese farmers stirred up so much dirt as they plowed, it kicked up humongous clouds of dust that crossed the Pacific Ocean and noticeably reduced the visibility of outer space for the astronomers.

(Think how many farmers it takes to feed 1.4 billion Chinese people.)

That blew my mind and took the phrase “It’s a small world” to a whole new level.

I was thinking about all this yesterday as I drove home. “Why is the sky so hazy?” I thought. Checking my weather app, I noticed the poor Air Quality Index and the warning “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”  

“What’s up with that?” I wondered. 

Turns out, we are getting smoke and haze here on the East Coast from some of the wildfires burning out west, like in Oregon and California.

“All things are connected…. It’s a small world.” 

The US West Coast is some 3,000 miles from Virginia. The distance is so great, it is fair to say most people in Southwest Virginia have never visited California or Oregon, and probably never will.  Yet, here we are, getting hazy air from their fires. (Some are also seeing particularly beautiful red sunrises and sunsets these days due to the haze, so that cloud has a silver lining, if you do not mind the weather pun.)

All things are connected. 

Last summer, there were different kinds of fires in parts of the Pacific Northwest– in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington in particular. Fires from looting and arson. Not natural, but man-made, deliberate. 

Likewise, it was easy last year for people here in Virginia to think, “Oh, that’s far away–the craziness and violence are in another part of the country. It doesn’t affect me.” However, those corrosive ideas of violence, lawlessness, and mob rule “floated” across the country. Not on the jet stream, like this summer’s smoke, but they floated via airwaves and the media that glorified and excused the violence and collapse of the rule of law.

Here in our beloved Roanoke Valley, we have seen horrific shootings in the past twelve months that would have been unthinkable even a short while ago. Just a few examples include the shooting at the Fleming High School graduation practice, the City Market shooting the night before Father’s Day, and a wonderful former student of mine who was gunned down in Southeast Roanoke last summer, Rest in Peace.

All things are connected.



Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

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