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  • Zhuangzi in the ClassroomA Teacher Diary Study
  • David McLachlan Jeffrey (bio)

Teacher diary studies are written first-person interpretations of experiences both inside and outside the classroom, which are examined for recurring patterns of insights that facilitate awareness. Many linguists have recognized the benefits of teacher diary studies through their wide-ranging uses for the development of insights and self-awareness based on frank and authentic written self-reflection.1

For teachers who embrace Daoism, writing down thoughts in a diary offers a meditative sense of tapping into deeper states of consciousness that tend to be smothered by ever excessive thinking intensified by the hectic pace of day-to-day activities. Such states of consciousness can even be awareness of simple things, such as the smiles on the students' faces or the little flower on the side of the path to the classroom, that tend to be overlooked in the rush toward academic achievement.

Diary studies for teachers thus offer an alternative approach that opens a peaceful and creative space between the relentless push-pull dimensions in modern education. They are also a catalyst of a new awareness that brings a positive change in personal-professional development. [End Page 211]

My Background

My interest in Daoism began by reading the writings of Alan Watts, such as Dao: The Watercourse Way that he wrote with Chung-Liang Huang (1975) and Daoism: Way beyond Seeking (1997). These, among others, led me to read the stories in Burton Watson's translation of the Zhuangzi (1968), which illuminated Zhuang Zhou's "free and easy wandering" and "perfect happiness," the sense of spontaneously going with the flows of situations. All this made me realize the benefit of infusing his ancient philosophy into my teaching experience.

Zhuang Zhou was a Daoist philosopher who lived toward the end of the Warring States period, a tumultuous time rife with warfare. His teachings are collected in the Zhuangzi, a key text of the Daoist tradition. It often relates philosophical perspectives in the form of humorous, metaphorical stories, based in ordinary society and everyday life, almost as though Zhuang Zhou, too, had been keeping a diary. This made the Zhuangzi especially inspirational to my Daoist-inspired intentions of bringing my classroom into "an integral part of nature and the greater universe, which functions in perfect harmony and is fundamentally good" (Kohn 2009, 365).

In addition, I benefited from Livia Kohn's study which relates Zhuang Zhou's philosophy to modern science, notably physics, biology, environmentalism, philosophy, and psychology. In synthesizing the philosophy of the Zhuangzi text and its modern-day contexts both in China and in the West, she demonstrates its universal applicability over the past 2000 years (Kohn 2014). Despite the rapidity of great technological and scientific advancements of our time, it is clear that the path of free and easy wandering toward a state of perfect happiness remains for the most part just as applicable, yet equally as elusive as it was in Zhuang Zhou's time, and hence the applicability of Kohn's understanding of both the universal and practical applications of Zhuangzi's philosophy. Therefore, if this philosophy is equally elusive in contemporary education, then perhaps a diary study based on the Zhuangzi can form an applicable approach to bring it into the contemporary classroom, especially given the high levels of stress shared between teachers and students.

Another important resource for me was Robert Santee's work, which applies the wisdom of the Zhuangzi to the psychological needs of [End Page 212] stress management, healthcare, and well-being (2011). He notes that the prevalence of chronic stress in modern society, together with the associated fight-or-flight response that accrues from primal thinking—incompatible viewpoints for black or white—lead to detrimental health consequences and offers a Zhuangzi-inspired solution of becoming an authentic person based on a meditative mindset.

These contemporary applications helped me to realize that applying the ancient wisdom of the Zhuangzi might offer a solution to the many dysfunctional stresses and strains, not only in my classroom environment, but in classroom situations globally. The Zhuangzi's appreciation of the innate uniqueness within everyone and its acceptance of differences of opinions and...


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pp. 211-224
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