firstname.lastname@example.org writes: >But if they don't know arithmetic yet, then they'll continue to fail at >everything else...
No, I don't believe this is true.
It depends on what "don't know arithmetic" means. For the most part, it means "haven't memorized the times table" and/or "get confused about the partial products when multiplying multi-digit numbers."
Neither of those skills is the least bit necessary. Just hand them a calculator. Giving out calculators is a lot cheaper than keeping them in prison for most of their lives when they can't get a job because they fail the state exit exam (20% of California seniors, according to today's paper).
And nothing in real math (by which I mean math that's about reasoning rather than memorizing) depends on the ability to do arithmetic.
It's true that if a kid doesn't know what adding or multiplying *means* then s/he's in trouble. So I think we should just hand out the calculators in kindergarten, and focus the math curriculum on how to get from a word problem to knowing which calculator button to push.
(Yes, sure, it's even better if the kid can reason *and* memorize. But some kids just can't -- they are bright kids with a specific learning disability about short-term memory, and we needlessly make their school lives miserable by providing a curriculum that's entirely about memorization.)