Lessons in the lessons: English and General Education

Sundial next to pink flowers

There are lessons within the lessons taught in biology to literature to philosophy classes at Western Oregon University. And each lesson can provide us with guidance, insight and knowledge during this uncertain time.

Today at WOU asked faculty to share with students and employees some perspective from their subject matter to help us navigate our new normalcy since the coronavirus (COVID-19) has currently disrupted the patterns of our daily lives.

Their words can help us to chart a course to gracefully rise to the challenge and learn valuable lessons from this moment in history. Here is part three of a three-part series with interviews from Erin Baumgartner and Kathleen Cassity.

A ladder next to old books
Western Oregon University provides its students with a well-rounded education that prepares them to successfully navigate their present and future.

English literature

Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and English professor Kathleen Cassity has been contemplating the literary device of dramatic irony, where the audience knows more than the characters in the story.

The results of dramatic irony can range from being astonished the hero is having an affair with the chambermaid to maddening such when Romeo didn’t realize Juliet wasn’t dead.

“Dramatic irony reminds us that if we could view situations from an angle larger than our own and consider all that we alone cannot see, we would probably draw different conclusions and make different decisions,” Cassity said. “We are all trapped by our own subjectivity.”

In novels, plays and movies, fictional characters live out the comical, horrific or tragic implications of the decisions that they are forced to make with constricted vision and limited knowledge, because foreshadowing can only be written in retrospect.

“While we cannot transcend our individual limitations in real life, through literary imagination, we can. That can help us to realize that we are part of a larger whole that it isn’t all about us, and that we would do well to beware of passing quick judgments on situations,” Cassity said. “Dramatic irony reminds us to always keep in mind the big picture and the limitations of our own point of view.”

General Education

General Education Director and Biology professor Erin Baumgartner said the current coronavirus crisis highlights why she values WOU’s General Education program.

“I teach courses in Scientific Perspectives, and I believe what we do in Biology 101 and 102 matters enormously to our students who may be taking their last science-focused course before they graduate,” she said. “Hopefully, we are doing our part to build scientifically literate citizens who are confident in their ability to find, evaluate and use scientific information to add meaning and value to their daily lives. I know that is also true for my colleagues who teach other General Education courses and are doing their part to build productive individuals who can creatively and critically approach unfamiliar problems in collaborative ways while working with folks who have a diversity of perspectives.”

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