No Fun

The [Scientific American has an article][sa] about the early days of nuclear power development and how it stagnated into the moribund “industry” (or “sector” or whatever) we have now. I found the long quote from Freeman Dyson quite compelling:

> The fundamental problem of the nuclear industry is not reactor safety, not waste disposal, not the dangers of nuclear proliferation, real though all these problems are. The fundamental problem of the industry is that nobody any longer has any fun building reactors….Sometime between 1960 and 1970 the fun went out of the business. *The adventurers, the experimenters, the inventors, were driven out, and the accountants and managers took control.* The accountants and managers decided that it was not cost effective to let bright people play with weird reactors. So the weird reactors disappeared and with them the chance of any radical improvement beyond our existing systems. We are left with a very small number of reactor types, each of them frozen into a huge bureaucratic organization, each of them in various ways technically unsatisfactory, each of them less safe than many possible alternative designs which have been discarded. Nobody builds reactors for fun anymore. The spirit of the little red schoolhouse is dead. That, in my opinion, is what went wrong with nuclear power. (emphasis added)

That pretty munch describes the current moment in higher education in particular, and probably education in general. Too many managers who have been empowered by a bureaucracy that was itself empowered by legislators who should have known better whose only interest is in satisfying rubrics that don’t lead to education but only the satisfaction of rubrics … but, damn, satisfying those rubrics is somehow what education is all about.


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