Nick Poole has just proposed this idea on the Collections Trust blog. In a nutshell, it’s the idea of giving plastic reproductions of iconic museum objects to all schoolchildren, using 3D printers. I can see why the idea got under Nick’s skin. I tried to leave a comment but it wasn’t sticking, so I’ve pasted it here for the time being:
I love these kinds of big experimental proposals – I’ve been missing them in my life. I’m not objecting to the idea, but I am raising a few more questions to which I don’t have answers. 1) The most important – what is the environmental impact of producing and shipping 7 million plastic objects which haven’t been requested? 2) What is the educational value of a not-to-scale reproduction in one material, compared to the possible value of exploring a range of objects in authentic materials in museums, in the natural & built environment and well reproduced online? 3) What is the value of having a small selection of 10 objects, which may become over-familiar – compared to what they have now which is potential access to millions of interconnected objects online and in the real world? 4) What is the value of having an object that is very likely static and uninteractive – compared to toys or craft materials etc that they can manipulate and reconstruct?
Some other concerns:
How you would ensure that the selection represented a broad enough range of cultures and ideas? How would you select and use these objects to explore contexts and connections? How you would ensure that it wasn’t seen to suffice or replace broader exploration of cultural collections? Does giving plastic reproductions enhance a sense of value of the original, or cheapen it by its multiplication and possession? Given that museum artefacts are already decontextualised by being in a museum, does this create a further remove? Is there too great an emphasis on having, holding and claiming heritage into your own place, rather than stewarding what is ours in common but leaving it in its own place? How does the idea of giving objects/tools that haven’t been created or chosen by children (with the hope that they will be transformed) fit with progressive notions about education, that children need to find their element and be actively involved in making choices?
It’s interesting that this has come at the same time as news that Google is giving a Raspberry Pi to every school in the land. Much as I believe in the value of children learning programming, I suspect they may gather dust and would prefer that Google paid tax properly so that we could fund schools effectively.
So, perhaps, it would be more creative and sustainable to team up with Google and DfE to ensure that masses of schools can obtain a 3D printer (if they want one and can prove good use of it), combined with good access and advice on using cultural collections online, as well as model projects to explore all the ways that children can programme, interpret and recreate cultural heritage with 3D printers.