Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford reports that fellow blogger Nathan Elkins has written a "peer reviewed" article entitled, "Treasure hunting 101 in America's classrooms" (2009, Journal of Field Archaeology 34 (4):482-9). That article is apparently an "expose" about the Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") program to teach children about ancient Greece and Rome through the use of historical coins. See http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/02/treasure-hunting-101-in-americas.html
For more about ACE, see http://ancientcoinsforeducation.org/
Elkins' article is not readily available to those not associated with the university culture for free and I don't want to spend any money to get it so I must confess I have not read his work.
Nevertheless, Mr. Barford evidently captures the spirit of Elkins' writing when he says,
The idea that one can be "educated" by collecting decontextualised artefacts potentially stolen from the archaeological record of another region really is a totally false argument.
There is thus some irony then in the fact that Mr. Elkins is currently studying such "decontextualized" coins himself as an employee of Yale University. See http://artgallery.yale.edu/pages/collection/permanent/pc_coins_over.html Indeed, Yale's collection contains a large number of unprovenanced coins of the sort normally available on the market, including those from a recent purchase. See http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v33.n2/story19.html ("The Yale University Art Gallery has acquired a collection of 4,100 coins from one of Europe's most renowned numismatic scholars, Peter R. Franke.
The collection, amassed by Franke over the course of a lifetime, includes coins from throughout the Mediterranean basin, with a principal focus on Greek coins of the Roman period."). Presumably, both Yale and Elkins believe these coins have some value outside of any "lost archaeological context."
In any event, I'm all for using ancient coins ("decontextualized" or not) to help teach our children about ancient history. In that regard, ACE is only doing in the classroom what museums themselves have started to do-- give the public and particularly children-- the opportunity for some "hands on" experience with common ancient artifacts, like ancient coins.
A few years back, I visited the British Museum "coin room" where a young museum employee was cruising the gallery with a cart containing ancient coins for the public to touch.
Perhaps Yale and even some less collector friendly institutions like the University of Pennsylvania can set up similar programs to give the public some direct contact with artifacts from the past. Understanding of ancient cultures needs to be encouraged in our society. Most ancient coins in University collections gather little but dust. Perhaps, now is the time to put at least some of the lesser specimens to work to engage our youth just as the volunteers at ACE have been doing for some six years-- and all without government handouts or large institutional grants.