My brother Joe, who is famous in the world of population genetics, tells how for decades those working in his corner of biology (phylogenetic inference – the science of constructing inheritance trees) were scorned by the reigning molecular biologists as “stamp collectors”. While the molecular biologists pursued the secret of life itself, the stamp collectors puttered around with statistics and large data sets, working out how to make sense out of data patterns.
Then came the crowning triumph of molecular biology – reading the human genome. Note that I do not say “decoding the human genome”, as it suddenly became clear that no one knew how to make sense of gigabytes of gene sequence data. Who, the moleculars wondered, could make some order of all this data?
Then everyone looked at each other and exclaimed in unison, “the stamp collectors!” Joe and his colleagues were showered with money and attention. Their grant requests were now favored for approval, and at Joe’s university a brand-new Department of Genome Sciences was created which welcomed his august presence.
The parallel is this – the OLPC project is about as far as it can go without empowering its own “stamp collectors”, by which I mean those who have long labored in the field of experimental education. Yes, there are others besides Seymour Papert, and the official OLPC line on the topic, that the educational research had already been done and that the engineering was all that was left, was always blatantly untrue.