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The Parliament of Earthlings - Ester Klein Hesselink, 2022 (Internship project WUR, Wageningen)


"Since the beginning of time, we Earthlings have come together to celebrate our connection that we have. All of us, large and small, together form and sustain this Earth in a vast network. Without this celebration together, the connection will fall into oblivion and the Earth will fall apart. Today we were not brought together with a joyful song to announce the celebration. The music was mournful this time. The mournful song announced a great loss that affected us in our unifying celebration. Many people have become uprooted from our council and no longer celebrate with us. We would like to restore this celebration .......

"What is important," began the old fungus, "is that we do not forget the humans as well. Although they are falling into oblivion from the connection they have with us, there is still hope as long as we do not forget them."".

So begins the script for the 5-day project week that havo and vwo pupils of the Corlaer College from Nijkerk experienced in 2022, at the 'invitation' of the Earthlings. So that their celebrations and deliberations can once again take place with the people. 

The author gives two conceptual entrances for this inclusive way of ecological thinking and connects them: 'deep ecology' and 'traditional ecological knowledge'. She describes those inputs[1] as follows: "'Deep ecology' follows natural laws that are independent of human laws. When humans do not recognize the natural laws, for example when they make too generous use of the earth's resources that humans provide, this leads to a reaction from the non-humans within ecosystems and we face ecological as well as social crises ...... 

When people do recognize natural laws then we speak of 'traditional ecological knowledge' ...... 'Traditional' often refers to knowledge, beliefs, rituals, customs and principles of cultures - and to ancestors -  which usually develop from historical experiences in a particular area ...... Translated: 'traditional ecological knowledge' is then: learning lessons and experiences passed on from generation to generation. With the aim of learning to recognize the relationships we have with the land and ecosystems - of which we are, after all, a part - and learning to work with them in a moral sense: with reciprocity and respect .......".  

The author thus arrives at a new combination term that guides human thought and action: 'deep ecological knowledge'. And continues: "This knowledge and experience is gained by being present in the middle of the system and considering everything in this living system as having a will of its own from which we can learn something if we can learn to listen to it with all our senses without judgment". All of this, she argues, grew out of a theory by philosopher Bruno Latour about the "Parliament of Things," described by Simons, among others.[2]

The project week

The students and their teachers experienced "outside" a project week whose objective for the students was: 'Because I am able to look at relationships in ecosystems from my own perspective, the perspective of other people and from the perspective of non-people, I can apply this knowledge to further develop my relationship with the environment in a way that makes sense to me'. 

  • The first day is designed to let students experience being part of nature, with the concrete question, "Why does nature fascinate? The day ends with a scavenger hunt in which the students, with map and compass, will search for locations in the area by themselves in groups. There they receive information about the geological era they are in. The trek is 2.3 km long, reflecting half the time in billions of years in which the Earth has developed. Only in the very last meters does the era of man begin.
  • The second day is mainly about "primitive" man in which the making and use of fire is central. Then we will also discuss the spiritual function that fire often had/has for humans. Think for example of the campfire where legends, fairy tales and other stories, in which plants and animals also often play an important role, are told - still do. 


  • The third day, students "meet" the plant and animal kingdom and perform activities, using the "Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature."[3] 

From a review of that guide: "The authors adopt a pragmatic sustainability derived from the oral traditions of native peoples. They remind us that `Nature was a living teacher` whose ultimate lesson, termed regenerative living, acknowledged that `families in a community depended on natural resources and the ingenuity to know when, where, and how to hunt, trap, fish, and gather what they needed while they cared for the natural world at the same time".

  • The fourth day, students make a shift in their thinking: they "travel" with a non-human: a fox. And then there is a deliberation of all Earthlings. In the evening, they work on learning forms, again from the "Coyote's Guide," to sharpen their senses for nonhumans. 
  • The fifth, last day constitutes the integration of what they have experienced and learned during the week. One form of work is the field trip to a food forest. From the text of the script: "Food forests are a great example of ecosystems where humans and nonhumans work together to create beautiful habitat for nonhumans on the one hand, and grow all kinds of nutritious nuts, fruits and perennial crops for humans to eat from on the other". 

The day will end with a celebration, which will be the conclusion of the "deliberation of the Earthlings. In the process, all students and teachers bring something from the food forest to eat together at this celebration to share with each other.


This project clearly has a pedagogical and didactic basis (such as the head/heart/hand approach) that the author previously formulated in her earlier thesis[4]; this is evident from the texts in and from the bibliography of the playbook. From it: "The learning forms in this project week are different from what the students are used to, because the work forms are focused on experiential learning as opposed to intellectual learning which is the emphasis in today's school classrooms. In order for the students to also keep track of their learning intellectually, the students will receive a reflection booklet during the 5-day project week ...... In addition, the reflection booklet also contains assignments that are addressed during the work forms. The reflection booklet is thus a bundled workbook for the week".

In my opinion, the specialness of this approach lies in the vision of man as an inseparable part of nature (biotic as well as abiotic, between past and future) or even the cosmos; and that on the pedagogical approach: nature experience with a spiritual slant. Both the description and the roadmap of the whole project are clear, concise and well-organized. There a number of linguistic sloppiness (as, for example, when mentioning important thinkers in the field: 'Arne Nea'ss' and 'Ghandi') fortunately does not change anything.

What struck me is the author's orientation to almost exclusively foreign literature. But even from that entry, the philosophy of life of many "indigenous peoples" is not really elaborated - well mentioned. Famous, for example, is the speech of Indian Chief Si'ahl (unified: Chief Seattle) in 1854. It was his response to the U.S. regional governor's attempt, on behalf of that country's then president, to buy land from the Duwamish Indians.[5] He said, among other things: 

"The Indian loves the gentle rustling of the wind over the water, and the smell of the breeze, purified by the afternoon rain or carrying with it the scent of pine trees. 

The air is precious to the red man because everything shares the same air. The animals, the trees, the people, everything shares the same air. The white man pays no attention to the air he breathes. Like a man who has been dying for many days, he is numb to evil vapors. 

But if we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air communicates its breath to all life that sustains them. The wind, which gave my grandfather his first breath, also takes his last sigh. And the wind must also give our children the spirit of life.

If we sell you our land, you must keep it secluded, hallowed ground where even the white man can come to taste the wind with the scent of meadow flowers". 

Important parts of this speech[6] are on a somewhat unexpected website, see

But in the Netherlands, too, much has been done in this area - and is still being done; it would really  would have been an enrichment had that been addressed. A few examples, far from complete and not all as in-depth as the Parliament of Earthlings:

A methodical core of this was: ask the things themselves! That "asking" of nature is only meaningful if you can also "listen" to the "answer. In that project, a step-by-step model [7] also emerged that is reminiscent of that of this project week. And this brings us back to the philosophy of the Parliament of Earthlings. 

  • Work of the 'green' educator Kees Both: for NOB, Jenaplan schools, Green Pedagogy Foundation and various other institutions.

In a foundational article ("Toward a Green Pedagogy"; see, he says: "In summary, by nature we mean that which is not man-made or devised, the "more-than-human world." ......: wholesale the earth that carries and feeds us, the plants and animals in their diversity and coherence, the "elements" soil, atmosphere, water, fire, the great rhythms of the seasons and of day and night ......". 



Among the results of the project week, the author notes: "With the skills gained, students began to behave like a tribe in society with each other and nature. They learned to sharpen their senses and eventually empathize with the other organisms in the ecosystem of forest and food forest in "The Parliament of Earthlings." During the parliament, students spoke to each other on behalf of other Earthlings to see how they can work together to keep the ecosystem in balance". And this is evidenced by comments students made afterwards; a small selection:

  • "I'm very glad I chose it anyway .... At school it was promoted as nature week, sounds a little boring, but it was very different from what I expected! I was never bored". 
  • "I learned many interesting things, it was much more fun than normal school. You learn by doing! That's so much more fun, then you're actively involved. You could also have learned it from theory, for example, 'you can eat these plants,' but now you actually got to work with it".
  • "Honestly, I think I learned more in that week than in a normal school week. You pay attention faster anyway, in school you sink down faster. Here you're constantly busy, constantly doing things. A lot of variety".

The question remains: how does this fit into the curriculum of the various subjects and what can be done about aftercare, follow-up? 

Via interested teachers can sign up and order the materials. 

[1] Editorial lightly edited.

[2] Simons, M., 2017. The Parliament of Things and the Anthropocene: How to listen to 'Quasi-Objects', Research in Philosophy and Technology 21(2017)2-3, pp. 150-174.

[3] Young, J., E. McGown and E. Haas, 2010. Coyote's Guide to Connecting with Nature. Washington: OWlink media.

[4] Klein Hesselink, Ester, 2021. Dreams for Dutch Education: From a system of Fear towards an Ecosystem of Courage. A critical, reflexive case study in transformative education. Thesis WUR, Wageningen.

[5] Today in the U.S., Native Americans and American Indians are referred to instead of Indians; in Canada, First Nations peoples.

[6] The original text is no longer extant; there are some versions made over time.

[7] Both, Kees, 2001. Investigations by and with children. Twelve statements for diagnosis and conversation. People's Children (2001)March.

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