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There is an old saying about education, "It's not about filling a bucket, it's about lighting a fuse." I believe that. As a high school teacher I saw students bewildered, over and over again, by being asked to learn facts or procedures that were unrelated to each other or to the student's lives. It is the biggest obstacle to learning for most students.
In Math, what students need to learn is how to look at the world and use numbers and calculations to understand it better. Whether that is their personal finances, tasks at their job, or evaluating the news and the statements of politicians, they will almost never be presented with equations and graphs and given a problem to solve as they are in class. What they need is the "number sense" to look at a real world question and turn it into a math problem to be solved without any guidance. If they can do that, then their high school math training was worthwhile. If they can't it was unsuccessful, irrespective of their grades.
In learning a foreign language what students really need to learn is a different way of looking at the world. Spanish speakers see everything a little bit differently from English speakers and French speakers see things in yet a different way. These perspectives overlap some, but much less than one might think. Once they "get" that, the vocabulary and grammar and even the accent come much easier and more quickly. Until then, it often seems like pointless memorization and repetition. This is especially true when the foreign language is English and the student is an immigrant to this country.
Similar key concepts exist for History, Geography and all the Social Sciences. I don't have the space here to discuss each one, but my approach is similar to that for Math and Foreign Language.
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