ABSTRACT

A useful metaphor to help understand both the nature and the implementation of teaching standards and teacher education programme standards in Australia is Weber's famous idea of ‘the iron cage’ (1930/2001). This is how he referred to the trappings of capitalism that confine us all, arguing that we need to be critical of such structures — not because they are necessarily bad in themselves, but because they make life so easy. For this reason alone, we need to be wary of them. Here in Australia, we have learnt to be sceptical of things that seem to be ‘taken care of’ for us. An infamous Australian politician of the 1970s, Joh Bjelke-Peterson, was fond of telling the Queensland public that they were in safe hands. His regular reassuring chorus of ‘Don't you worry about that!’ accompanied his protective governance of the steady reduction of civil liberties and the increased deposition of his State's resources over the time he was its Premier. When we do not need to think for ourselves, because pre-existing structures of thought already shape and frame the extent of our intellectual engagement, and when someone else has taken care of business for us, we are indeed in danger of becoming ‘comfortably numb’, and powerless to act with real agency in our own situation of practice. For teachers and teacher educators concerned with preparing young people for successful lives in the constantly changing social and economic contexts that frame education practice today, the capacity to think around and beyond the pre-specified grids of knowledge and skills that standardise our work is essential. It means thinking both with and against the strictures of standards, to acknowledge the affordances and possibilities for innovation as well as the constraints and potential for conservatism that they bring.