“If I Had a Hammer”

The theme song for “Understanding Diversity,” theme four in our Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum, has been a rallying song for social movements for the past 50 or more years. Chances are pretty good that you know the words and have sung If I Had a Hammer a time or two yourself. In fact, more and more we’re finding that there are lots of folks in schools with guitars and voices and an urge to sing with students, and we get reminded of how much fun and energizing it is to sing together. Pete Seeger, who wrote “If I Had a Hammer” with Lee Hays, often visited schools and sang with children, and we know some of them, now adults, who still remember that from their childhood. I found this video of Pete singing with a group of kids five years ago in Beacon, NY at a Martin Luther Kind Day celebration and love that the kids are front and center while you can just barely see Pete’s head behind them.

We chose this song as the music for this theme because we know that stereotyping, discrimination, and oppression can be dangerous and this song poetically says that with a hammer and a bell and song, we can hammer out, ring out, and sing out danger and warning. And in a positive way, we can hammer out, ring out, and sing out “love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.”

Understanding, celebrating and making sure that diversity is seen as a source of strength in our schools and among our students is a social movement. Just this month First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us in a speech to honor the school counselor of the year that, “Diversity is not a threat to who we are. It makes us who we are.” The content of much anti-bullying legislation is the prohibition of harassment and bias-based behavior that focuses on social identities such as race, gender, gender identity, age, size, social class, sexual orientation, appearance, physical ability, religion, and ethnicity. But prohibiting such behavior is not enough. It serves as a minimal standard for behavior and does little to help young people learn about and understand the differences which distinguish, but do not define people. Our celebrating diversity theme is designed to expose students to the bias and prejudice that people sometimes experience based on their differences and help them understand the harm of such judgments. It is fundamentally about respecting all people and treating everyone we meet with compassion and kindness.

Added to the other three theme songs —”Don’t Laugh at Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Down by the Riverside,”— our music is a framework of folk songs that are a reminder of the cornerstone curriculum themes: expressing feelings, building community, resolving conflict creatively, and understanding diversity. We hope you sing them often and loudly!

As always, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. Please write to us at info@operationrespect.org to tell you how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.

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