Millinocket, Maine v. China’s Global Times (and its sketchiest editorialist) [UPDATED!]

[UPDATED 25 June: Okay, turns out that the update below needs an update. The Global Times site was, an emailer tells me, undergoing an upgrade, and links to some content were broken in the process – including links to Mattimore’s pieces. They are now restored.]

[UPDATE 13 June: The Global Times editorials referenced in this blog post have all been deleted from the Global Times website. However, cached versions remain, and I’ve added links to those versions where possible. The fact that the Global Times would delete this editorial, and others by Patrick Mattimore says much about their veracity and quality. Put differently, it takes a real whopper to get yourself deleted from the Global Times, let me tell you.]

On Monday, the English language edition of China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper, daily circulation of 1.5 million, had this to say about Millinocket, Maine, population 5000, and its high school (Stearns), enrollment 200: [UPDATE 13 June: a cached version of this now deleted editorial is available HERE.]

Stearns is a run-of-the-mill high school and doesn’t appear on any “best high school lists.”

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.

Millinocket is isolated. The closest mall and movie theater is one hour away. The town gets 93 inches of snow per year. Millinocket has about 5,000 residents but has experienced increasingly hard times since its paper mill filed for bankruptcy eight years ago. There were about 700 students at the high school in the 1970s. Today there are about 200?and the biggest kick for kids is hanging out in a supermarket parking lot.

Context: Millinocket, Maine has an active international students program in its public schools and, over the last year, it’s been covered by several media outlets, including the AP and the New York Times (indeed, the Global Times story lifts language, unattributed, from the Times’ story). The Global Times editorial argues that Chinese parents are better off sending their children to elite Chinese schools, rather them to international programs like the one in Millinocket, Maine – especially if they want their children to attend elite American colleges. It’s the kind of thing that the Global Times, once described by James Fallows as “the pro-Communist Fox News of China“, likes to run, especially when – as in the case of this editorial – it’s written by an American.

In any case, it struck me as patently unfair that a subsidized newspaper, circulation 1.5 million, would pick on a small town in Maine, population 5000, without giving that small town the opportunity to respond. So, Monday night, I wrote to the Town Manager of Millinocket and offered Shanghai Scrap as a forum for him to respond to the editorial in any way he liked. He wrote back and, soon after, so did the Superintendent of Millinocket’s schools. I’ll post their complete responses, in a moment. But first, a brief word about the author of the Global Times editorial, American Patrick Mattimore.

Who the hell is this guy? Curiously, there is no straightforward answer. For example, the byline for his Millinocket editorial [UPDATED 13 JUNE: Again, a cached link is available HERE.]

The author is an adjunct instructor at Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program and a US public high-school teacher.

Fair enough. Except that, curiously, only two months ago (and off and on since spring 2010, at China Daily), his byline at the same paper included a loftier title: [UPATE 13 JUNE: Cached link available HERE.]

The author is an adjunct professor at Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing.

Meanwhile, over at China Daily, where he writes a weekly column, Mattimore changes his professorship into an “adjunct law instructor” -ship, and adds, for good measure, a sketchy fellowship:

Patrick Mattimore is a fellow at the American-based Institute for Analytic Journalism and an adjunct law instructor in the Temple University/Tsinghua University LLM program in Beijing.

Delaying for a moment, discussion of Mattimore’s faculty status, I have only one thing to say about the Institute for Analytic Journalism‘s Unabomber-Manifesto-like website: it identifies Mr. Mattimore as a resident of “San Francisco and Geneva, Switzerland,” a curious detail considering that his Chinese newspaper bylines identify him as, among things, a US public high school teacher who serves as an adjunct of something at Tsinghua/Temple.

In any event, I’m badly pressed for time these days, and really don’t have time to worry about sketchy characters like Mr. Mattimore. But, I must admit, I remain curious as to Mr. Mattimore’s title, if any, at Tsinghua/Temple Law School. Professor? Instructor? Law instructor? Intensive English teacher? His name neither appears in Temple University’s databases, nor in the 2011 brochure for the program. So I emailed him and, to his credit, he responded promptly. As to his title at Tsinghua/Temple, his response was straightforward: “No precise title.” But that begged the question, then: just who in hell decided that he should be bylined  as an “adjunct professor” (or, “adjunct instructor,” or “instructor”) in his state-owned bylines? Mattimore’s answer: “I am not sure if any of them [Global Times or China Daily] substituted professor for teacher or instructor but I take responsibility for using the title professor originally.” He also claims to have lived in Beijing since 2009.

Thus concludes this Shanghai Scrap investigation.

Now, back to the good leaders of Millinocket, Maine, and how they respond to being drop-kicked in the Global Times. Keep in mind that the focus of both responses is the international program which, this year, hopes to attract 60 students.

First off, a response from Eugene Conlogue, Millinocket’s town manager:

The Global Times article totally misses the point about Millinocket’s interest in recruiting international students to our community and school department. We are a small rural town in a small rural state. We do not try to compete with large-scale metropolitan areas like Shanghai, Beijing, New York, or Los Angeles. Our streets are safe. We do not have “gangs” and hooligans. And, no, we do not have a mall.

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 area is a four-season recreation area and, in the winter time, we do get snow. We are willing to offer that experience to others, including international students who want a wholesome experience and a chance to expand their horizons. Our small community is willing to share its history and experience with others and looks forward to the cultural learning opportunity that presents itself with our international student program.

Our lives revolve around an ethic of hard work, good neighborliness, and community pride. The physical condition of our schools are of the highest standards because we invest in them and maintain them. Our students are well recognized not only for their success in various sports, but also for other activities such as our State champion Show Choir and academic achievement. We do not seek to be on “lists”, we seek to educate our students and help them go on to universities and colleges of their choice where they achieve high success. An international student is not going to go to Harvard or Yale simply because of our educational program at Stearns; rather, they will be accepted at such schools because of their life’s work of preparation. Their time in Millinocket will help to enhance that life experience and better prepare them for the next level.

The Millinocket community and I are looking forward to welcoming our incoming international students in late August. I believe they will have a most enjoyable experience.

Eugene J. Conlogue

Millinocket Town Manager

 

And second, we have a very interesting, fact-based (contra Mattimore) response from Dr. Kenneth Smith, Superintendent of Schools, Millinocket School Department. I like this one, particularly, as it’s a good reminder of just how much pride is taken in America’s small town schools by the residents of those small towns, particularly in an age when American public education is under attack from all corners. Worth a read for that reason, but also as a defense against those who believe the cure to what ails American education is more standardized testing. Would be nice if more superintendents would follow his example. In any case, Dr Smith’s response:

It appears the author isn’t very well informed. I have a Chinese daughter as an exchange student and she has learned a great deal and she has enjoyed her US public school experience. Her friend from another part of China is staying in the same town with another family and she has also expressed the opinion that her US public school experience has been very useful educationally and quite rewarding. There are a few myths about US public education which I will address here. First, the percentage of Americans earning a high school diploma has been rising for 30 years. According to the Department of Education, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who were not enrolled in school and hadn’t earned a diploma or its equivalent fell to 8 percent in 2008. Second, average SAT and ACT scores are also up, even with many more — and more diverse — test-takers. On international exams such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, U.S. elementary and middle school students have improved since 1995 and rank near the top among developed countries. Americans do lag behind students in Asian nations such as Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan on these tests, but so do Europeans. The gap in math and science scores may be an East-West divide.

In the United States heterogeneous grouping is considered the norm as all students are either required or encouraged to take commonly utilized standardized tests, including students with significant and severe learning or physical disabilities. Since 2005, the state of Maine has required all high school juniors to take the SAT exam as a formal assessment instrument. In addition, the state also encourages all sophomores and juniors to take the PSAT exam, paying for all costs associated with the testing and providing public schools with preparatory assistance. Once again, all students regardless of ability, handicap, or socioeconomic class are strongly encouraged to take these exams and accommodations are made for them such as extended time. All scores are included in state data reporting regardless if the students took the testing seriously or their handicapping conditions interfered in their ability to perform to the level of their peers. Given the fact that American public schools educate and test all students, not just a select few, our averages are rather impressive!

The Stearns tuition and room and board for next year, 2011-2012, is $24,000, not 27,000. We have articulation agreements with colleges and universities that will give preferential consideration to Stearns graduates, including our international students. We are committed to providing our students an excellent educational experience as well as to assisting our graduates get into a college or university.

Stearns High School is recognized as an excellent high school. I have been a superintendent of schools in one of the largest Maine school system as well as some smaller systems and I have observed excellent teaching in all sizes and shapes. Students from my school systems have successfully completed degrees in Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Tufts, Vanderbilt and many other excellent institutions of higher education. These students have gone on to excellent paying and rewarding positions throughout the world. I doubt if any informed person could every say Stearns is a run-of-the-mill high school.

Stearns High School is considered one of the finest school buildings in the state, extremely well maintained. Stearns received an expansion several years ago and now encompasses about 140,000 sq. ft., about the size of a super wall mart. Our athletic fields, swimming pool and ice hockey rink are the envy of many schools, public and private. Stearns High School is in the process of expanding its Advanced Placement offerings to include AP Calculus, Statistics, Chemistry, Biology, English, and Art. The expansion of AP courses combined with the development of Honors Courses will help ensure that all students will have the academic preparedness to attain acceptance into any top-flight university. Stearns High School also has the technology capabilities for all students to access a computer and the internet. It is deceiving of the author to simply take something from an article and write as if there is a lack of resources available to appropriately supply Stearns High School’s classrooms with academic materials.

Millinocket is a destination sort by many. Over 60,000 people visit Baxter State Park every year. Our clean lakes, rivers and streams abound with recreational opportunities from fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, camping, moose and deer watching to camping. Millinocket is a safe town with a recreation department committed to providing recreational opportunities to all youth. We certainly do get snow which presents the opportunity for our students to ski, travel throughout the country side on snow machines, skate and build snow sculptures. We also have some of the cleanest air in the United States.

International students can attend a public school for one year and transfer to a private but more costly school. We have agreements with many private schools so we can guarantee their enrollment in the US for four years. Currently there is a bill before the US Congress that will change all that and provide international students with the same length of stay regardless of public or private.

Understanding and using English is very important to any international student if they intend to work in the international marketplace. We have articulation agreements with many colleges and universities that will guarantee international students the opportunity to enroll. Obviously students must meet the requirements of the colleges and universities but our graduates know they will get in the front door. Students who attend Stearns High School have the opportunity to take part in a variety of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Stearns High School is a small school where students have multiple opportunities to be a part of the basketball, field hockey, cheerleading, baseball, softball, show choir, one act play, or any other team the school offers. Having an academic background that contains more than just course work will assist any student in gaining acceptance into an American University. Stearns High School is committed to assisting all students to attain a well rounded education that prepares them for life beyond high school.

I have taught in both private and public schools and I have been a principal and superintendent in public schools. Both types of schools provide opportunities for students to grow and learn but neither can guarantee acceptance in any college or university. However, if any student makes the effort and has the ability both types of schools can guarantee their chances are excellent that they will get into a school of choice.

Getting your facts right is important!

Dr. Kenneth Smith

Superintendent of Schools

Millinocket School Department

 

[UPDATE: I was just asked if I’ve made any effort to reach out to the Tsinghua-Temple program. Indeed, I have; yesterday I spoke to two individuals at the Beijing campus, but neither was in a position to be quoted on-record. I’ve also contacted Temple Univeristy’s communications department, both by phone and email, but have yet to receive a response. Will update if and when they get back to me.]

13 thoughts on “Millinocket, Maine v. China’s Global Times (and its sketchiest editorialist) [UPDATED!]

  1. I would second anyone from Millinocket Maine as I’ve been there at least 2 times in my life and have lived in China for 5 years. Millinocket was a town that I went to on my way through the Allagash Wilderness Waterway canoe trip many years ago from my camp in the summer! Ha Ha! What memories. What an experience for a Chinese student to live in Millinocket Maine! I am absolutely sure that the Chinese parents wouldn’t have to worry about a thing if their kids go to Maine. The only thing they might have to worry about is the moose up there or the possibility that they won’t want to come home to the big city after living in the small town. Thanks to Shanghai Scrap for seeing this and calling them out!
    I would take issue though with comparing the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese government, to Fox News, which does not blindly report what the US government says like other US news outlets these days. Kind of a weak comparison!

  2. Very interesting piece, especially appreciated it because of the time I have spent passing through Millinocket during outdoor adventures in northern Maine and my time in China.

    While living in China I found that many did not have the same appreciation for rural living as I did. Perhaps many do not understand that bucolic settings do not mean a lack of opportunities and hardship, but often provide quite the opposite?

    Hopefully the Chinese students presented with the opportunity to go to Millinocket will take it eagerly. Any chance for a change in scenery and immersion in a new culture is bound to open doors and expand one’s thinking–it certainly has during my time in Chinese cities.

  3. Tangentially, Millinocket was home to “Great Northern Tissue”, later purchased by Bowater, and later sold. It was one of the first paper mills in the USA to convert to 100% post consumer recycled fiber. Mainly (or Maine-ly) Great Northern converted to virgin paper in order to reduce use of bleaches after passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972. Yes, the mill was surrounded by trees, but buying white office paper from Boston allowed them to make white tissue paper less expensively, with less bleach, an early recycling success. Maybe someone from China could learn about how the Clean Water Act of 1972 led to new investments, jobs and profits in east Millinocket Maine. The former GM, Bart Harvey, is retired, but he would have a lot of history and information about how to make a profit from cleaner water.

  4. The superintendent puts a brave face on adversity, but it doesn’t quite work if you read between the lines. For example, boasting about your school’s square footage is kind of like Detroit boasting about how many empty houses they have. After all, the Global Times article said that your student population was shrinking — you’re basically admitting that your school is too big for your student population.

    I like the town manager’s approach better — to *deemphasize* the numbers and candidly admit that going to Stearns does not get you into Harvard or Yale. By emphasizing life experiences, he’s going after a different type of customer. I especially like the part about clean air and water — very clever.

    I can just see the advertising campaign: “Would you let your bǎoguì only son smoke three cigarettes a day? Then why do you allow him to breathe the air in Guangzhou? Send him to Maine — where the air is breathable and the water is drinkable. Where he can concentrate on his studies, because the nearest movie theater is an hour away.”

  5. Unfortunately, it’s not only the Global Times and other obvious propaganda rags that are guilty of such shoddy reporting. It’s amazing how many media organizations don’t even bother to pick up the phone/write an email to do some factchecking.

    Good on you for consistently taking it into your own hands, Adam, whether it’s with the Global Times or the New York Times.

  6. How long until Temple ensures that the editoriaist won’t be imitating a prof anymore? Bets anyone?

  7. I cannot specifically identify myself without jeopardy. I have first-hand knowledge of Stearns High School and would personally benefit if the program were a success. Unfortunately, I can say, without reservation, that the article in question is factually accurate (nearly identical facts and descriptions appeared in an earlier NY TIMES article). If anything, more damaging data could have been cited. The school is on academic life support, and it is reasonable for any tuition-paying student to question if Stearns High School is his best choice among competing schools.

    Wounded small-town pride, Maine’s unquestioned natural beauty, irritation with state controlled media, defence of American public education, and national pride are beside the point. The question remains–Is Stearns High School a good investment for prospective Chinese students? Will Stearns High School maximize their chances of being accepted at first-rate American universities?

    I found the article in question to have greater relevant accuracy than the sperintendent’s response: What does one expect a Chinese student who is a guest in the superintendent’s house to respond when asked her opinion of her host. Almost all of the college destinations of Steans graduates are from an earlier time. The superintendent is only specific when citing data that apply nationally. One has to ask where Maine’s composite SAT scores rank nationally and where Stearns SAT scores rank within Maine,paying particualr attention to the PSAT scores of the incoming senior class.

    The ciizens of Millinocket are first rate, the air is clean, the scenery can be breathtaking but the school, despite all of the local boosterism,may not be the best educational value for prospective students.

  8. So Global Times equate a good education, and probably a good life, with proximity of a mall. Now I understand the reason for performance of Chinese grads in workplaces here.

  9. Again, the facts and descriptions in the GLOBAL TIMES article have been lifted from a NY TIMES feature. Descriptions of the bleak futility, the isolation, the pervaisive boredom have their genesis in the very American and putatively liberal American newspaper of record, not in the machinations of the Chinese communist party.

    Much can be blamed on the authoritarian Chinese government,including their control of information. However, the objective reality is Millinocket is not among them.

    One needs to separate the understandable desire to root for the underdog against the behemoth, and focus on educational value and cultural enrichment. Superintendent Smith attempts to conflate tourism with educational excellence. Of course, Millinocket is a wonderful place for a rustic vacation. But that’s answering a question not asked.

  10. Sorry Adam, I don’t agree with you on this one. There seems to be many foreign bloggers on comments or opinions in globaltimes. I’ve seen Richard from PKD ranting and raving about ‘comments’ from Globaltimes and this is no different.

    If Chinese parents want to pay $27,000 for an ‘above average’ high school education so that they can enjoy some open space, that’s their prerogative. Most wealthy Chinese parents do spend their money on prepping their students in order to a good University in the US.

    Many Western Articles blasted about the Chinese educational system you don’t see Chinese bloggers say that this is a product of American mouthpiece, do you? So now some Chinese comment made a complaint about the American educational system, we call this propaganda? Oh please.

  11. Ahhh thw Global Times and China Daily. What fine upstanding honest publications they are.I wonder why they never report on the crimes committed on Chinese people by the C.. officals? Anyway, I don’t usually comment on these boards since I always see so many insults posted by the C.. stooges. Hey pug_ster, I’ve seen your comments on many sites, pay this month will be up.

  12. For reasons that I don’t totally understand, this post is generating a whole lot of racist, personal, and just plain stupid comments that I don’t care to host. So, with a bit of reluctance, I’m going to shut down the discussion. If you have something interesting to say, and you’re willing to attach your real name to it, please email it to me via the blog’s contact form. Potential commentators with a history of cooking bylines need not apply (and should really, please, stop trying).

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