If you live in Millinocket, it must have felt like a kick to the abdomen coming after a hard fall to the ground. An opinion piece in China’s Global Times newspaper urged Chinese parents considering sending their children to the region to attend Stearns High School to think twice. The school, like others in Maine, actively recruits Chinese students and their tuition money.
“Stearns is a run-of-the-mill high school and doesn’t appear on any ‘best high school’ lists,” the piece, written by Patrick Mattimore, asserted. “The school building is over 40-years old. The school has only one Advanced Placement class and the school maps date from the Cold War era.” The writer has not visited or studied the school, but gleaned the observations from a New York Times story.
Mr. Mattimore also derided Millinocket’s isolated status, with the closest mall and movie theater an hour away. He also wrote the town has fallen on hard times since the paper mills began declining, and that “the town gets 93 inches of snow per year” and “the biggest kick for kids is hanging out in a supermarket parking lot.”
School Superintendent Ken Smith and Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conologue responded in a BDN story appropriately highlighting the region’s benefits.
“Kids who gradate from Stearns go to all the same schools — Harvard, Stanford, the University of Maine — that all the other kids do. It is really up to the kids,” Dr. Smith said.
Mr. Conlogue described the region’s quality of life: “We offer a fine school system, a safe community, a clean environment where you can breathe the air and drink the water, and experience nature in ways not available to metropolitan areas.”
The writer was disparaged by critics here in Maine. And, so, too, was The Global Times, described by an Atlantic Monthly editor as a propaganda publication for the Chinese government. Mr. Mattimore contacted the BDN by email and, in reasonable fashion, explained how he was not an apologist for the Chinese government.
The most socialistic influence in his life was the time he spent living and teaching in San Francisco, he wrote. He was born in New York, grew up and was educated in New England and went to work in Boston after college. Mr. Mattimore now lives in China.
The main thrust of his OpEd that Chinese parents may not get real bang for their buck paying $27,000 annually for their children to attend Stearns, is not outrageous or unfounded advice. Chinese parents may assume any New England school is the academic equivalent of Deerfield Academy or Phillips Exeter Academy. Stearns is not. But attending Stearns will culturally acclimate Chinese students to the U.S., which has value.
Millinocket must take heart in the truths their town manager and school superintendent asserted: School is what students make of it, and the Katahdin region is a safe, recreationally rich place in which to live.
Mr. Mattimore will visit New England during the Fourth of July weekend and is willing to meet with town and school officials. We’re imagining a scene in which he gathers with town residents to watch fireworks, hopefully not in a parking lot.