Everyone knows that ELA and math are the focus of standardized testing so hence the focus of the majority of schools in this country. Reading, writing, expressing oneself well, computing, and using logic are all extremely important skills that every student needs to acquire to be successful in life. We definitely need to make sure students are mastering these skills.
But that last word is very important. ELA and math classes and standards are built around skills. The content of these classes are almost exclusively skills that can be applied in many different contexts. Curriculum should not be built on skills but on content that is relevant to students because it is authentic, motivating, or personal.
That is why I thing schools should focus their curriculum on science and social studies. These classes hold the interesting ideas, problems, and concepts where the ELA and math skills can be developed. Any good science will lead to experiments that require logical thinking and mathematical computation. Social studies requires extensive reading, writing, and analyzing skills. To be honest ELA skills should be integrated into every class. That is why we see movements like reading and writing across the curriculum.
To be clear I am not saying that there is nothing of value or interest in math or ELA as they stand alone. But I fear in isolation these classes only appeal to students who love literature, writing, or algorithms. I think there is a danger to our silos of curriculum that focus on ELA and math test prep that is boring and irrelevant.
If we want all students to be motivated to develop ELA and math skills we would do well to design curriculum around science and social studies issues into interesting PBL projects. Then we will give students authentic reasons to use the ELA and math skills. We might be amazed at how students would grow when given the chance to do “real” work right now, instead of some day when they are old enough.