If I Had a Hammer . . .
empathy, idealism, nostalgia

If I Had a Hammer . . .

As a new teacher, I have joined the hunt for creative ways to inspire students. Moving toward the end of an eight-week term, the textbooks and practice exercises I’m using have become routine, the class periods I teach predictable.

So, on a short break from reviewing the English conditional tense last week, I was delighted when fellow teacher Andrew, from Manchester UK, mentioned a song relevant to the topic. Its name? “If I Had a Hammer.”

Great idea. I quickly located a video of Peter, Paul and Mary singing the song back in 1962, pulled up the lyrics and photocopied them for my students.

Back in the classroom, I pushed play and my students listened, first with amusement at the choppy, old-fashioned instrumentation, but then raptly.

If I had a hammer,
I’d ring it in the morning.
I’d ring it in the evening
All over this land.
I’d ring out danger,
I’d ring out warning . . .

And then something happened that I hadn’t predicted. A wave of homesickness passed over me, old sap that I am. Nostalgia for days long gone, for the hopeful naivete of the sixties. And an intense longing to be back in my own land, where I belong.

Sitting in front of the class I found myself trying hard to control a quivering lip. Get a grip, Sue. It won’t do for you to break down in front of your students!

To my relief, the song quickly ended. But then, “Again, teacher,” the class insisted.

Sure, why not? I started the song again, hoping I could control myself this time. I could, but now I found myself thinking about how the song, originally written to support American labor laws, is once again current. What a coincidence.And then I began to wonder what had gone wrong since the sixties to kill my generation’s idealism.

Somewhere over the years, a great many of us lost our empathy. Perhaps it was because there were so many of us. We constantly had to compete with each other for jobs. We faced an economic reality that wasn’t as rosy as it was for our parents. And we tried out big new roles for ourselves that didn’t always work. Maybe this insecurity robbed us of the crucial ability to take other perspectives, to imagine lives that weren’t going as well as ours.

Well I’ve got a hammer
And I’ve got a bell.
And I’ve got a song to sing
All over this land.
It’s the hammer of justice,
I’ts the bell of freedom,
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.

The recording ended once more.

“Teacher, we should do more music,” a student suggested, a look of longing on his face.

“Yes,” I agreed. We definitely should.

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