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  • O’Neill, Cognition, and the Common Core Standards
  • Jeanine A. DeFalco (bio)

In light of the newly and widely adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the United States, this article explores how Eugene O’Neill’s plays can be used to promote the development of specific cognitive thinking skills necessary to successful learning, and advocates specifically for the inclusion of O’Neill’s plays in the curricula for eleventh- and twelfth-grade language arts classrooms. The recommended curriculum calls for the inclusion of an American playwright from the eighteenth, nineteenth, or twentieth century. Although it is arguable that other dramatic literary works could be substituted to achieve these ends, the analysis and advocacy that follows is specific to the canon of O’Neill, due in no small measure to his historic influence in the domain of the theater arts from the 1910s to today, as well as in consideration of the breadth of his stylistic approaches evident in the canon of his work.

This article begins with an analysis of the historical marginalization of O’Neill in academia. Next, an overview of some of the cognitive skills necessary to successful learning will be identified. These skills will then be correlated with specific dramatic texts by O’Neill that would best support the development of said skills within the language arts eleventh- and twelfth-grade classrooms. Concomitantly, this examination will link these skills and texts with the following CCSS English Language Arts (ELA) Standards (see appendixes A, B, and C): (Reading Literature) ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1-10; (Writing) ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2 and 11-12.3; (Speaking and Listening) ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 and 11-12.3. In all, this article will advocate for a consideration of how O’Neill’s dramatic works should have a more central place within the language arts classroom and academia more broadly. [End Page 198]

Addressing the Philosophy of Curriculum

At the crux of many curriculum issues is the struggle between what is the intent or objective of the curriculum and what is the curriculum as experienced by the student. To what end are we introducing content in our classrooms, and what is the educational value of this process? In light of the current educational Common Core Standards reform movement in this country, teachers must now adjust their pedagogy and curriculum with the express purpose of preparing elementary and secondary education students for greater success in the workplace and for post-secondary instruction. This reform requires reanalyzing not only what we are teaching in the classroom, but also how that content will increase and improve our students’ ability to successfully navigate post-secondary school experiences.

Today’s technology-driven society removes the need to commit to memory the facts and figures that have been the predominant feature of curricula that position subject matter as the educational ends of instruction. Indeed, current trends in educational research point to the need to include the development of cognitive skills rather than merely promoting the memorization of content across a variety of disciplines. Educational researcher and theorist John Goodlad argues that the aim of curriculum guides—secondary through university level—should focus on content as a means to an end, as opposed to the indefinite curriculum agendas of schools that promote content as the ultimate educational objective. Goodlad asserts curriculum planners should use as their guide an approach that “maximizes fundamental concepts or principles serving to organize a field of study and use specific topics only as illustrative examples for developing these organizing elements.”1

But to what end, exactly, should curriculum be aimed and organized? According to the report “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts,” elementary and secondary curricula should prepare high school graduates with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed either in post-secondary education or in the workforce.2 This report was instrumental in developing the current Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the state-led initiative achieved in cooperation with the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The CCSS were developed in cooperation with teachers, administrators, and experts to develop a clear framework to assist...


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pp. 198-226
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