Educators are always comparing the test scores of American students with those of European students. They scratch their heads and wonder why the Americans are always behind in the test scores. And what’s interesting is that so many times, they think the American schools should always return to the Three R’s. 

Perhaps a look at the whole picture would shed new light. The American educators are only looking at the academics of the school, but there’s so much more that influences and enhances learning and, by extension, test scores. 

European children grow up going to museums and performances of all kinds. Just about every town has a facility that houses symphony, opera, ballet, and theater. These theaters in towns the size of Peoria have performances every day of the week for 11 months of the year, and they’re almost always sold out.

For six years I had only danced professionally in New York City. Then I had the good fortune to be hired to dance in Switzerland—first in St. Gallen with the St. Gallen Stadt Theatre and later in Zurich with the Zurich Opernhaus. That’s when I made this observation.

It was amazing to perform in six to eight productions each week to sold out houses that would give us up to 20 curtain calls. The appreciation of the arts was outstanding. And the respect, of the highest caliber toward the arts, remains today.

Yes, it’s true that ballet, opera, and western classical music, as we know it today, originated in Europe. And that’s my point. Our educators are always comparing the test scores with the European students, but they aren’t taking into consideration that the arts are what’s lacking for children in this country. Children are sponges, absorbing everything when they’re stimulated. The arts provide stimulation, as well as a context and a commentary that frame the basic learning experience.

We in Peoria can make that difference. How do we get people here to bring their families to attend more performances?

Peoria is a bit unusual for a city this size in the United States. Most cities this size only have a professional orchestra and ballet, or an opera and ballet, or just a theater, but not all four categories of organizations. Peoria has all four types of organizations. This is an opportunity for Peorians to put our city on the map. Just think—if our children start to excel in academics because each one of us got them involved in going to museums and performances, we would become the model for the rest of the country.

Sometimes we think we don’t like something because we don’t understand it. But once we begin to investigate and attend related performances, we become advocates. Most Americans have only had this experience with sports. If we put half of the energy into the arts with our children and families that we do with sports, I know our children would excel in their test scores, and we would all be more enriched and fulfilled.

You never know what talents your children have until you allow them to explore the realm of possibilities. Maybe your son could be the next Michael Jordan, or just as easily the next Picasso or Mikhail Baryshnikov. Your daughter may sing in Carnegie Hall, write like Maya Angelou, or find a cure for cancer. A world of possibilities awaits our youth, and by giving them the opportunity to explore and indulge in every aspect, we may find ourselves pleased not only by test scores, but by the beautiful, incredible, well-rounded individuals we’ve contributed to our society.

Finding out what’s happening in the arts in Peoria is quite easy. Read local publications like Arts Alive! and discover what there is to see and attend, and then do it. AA!