Social Justice and Teacher Education: A Hammer, a Bell, and a Song

By Spalding, Elizabeth; Klecka, Cari L. et al. | Journal of Teacher Education, May-June 2010 | Go to article overview

Social Justice and Teacher Education: A Hammer, a Bell, and a Song


Spalding, Elizabeth, Klecka, Cari L., Lin, Emily, Odell, Sandra J., Wang, Jian, Journal of Teacher Education


The Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) has a long, distinguished record of publishing articles focusing on multiple aspects of "learning to teach for social justice, social change, and social responsibility" (Coehran-Smith, 2001, p. 3). Since the most recent themed issue on the topic, "Culture, Diversity, and Transformation," appeared in 2004, the time seemed fight for an update. Furthermore, the current issue devoted to the topic of social justice and teacher education emerged from the field, as we assumed editorship of JTE and noticed that we were receiving a number of quality manuscripts connected by this theme. With this editorial and themed issue, we bring together and highlight current research and scholarship that focus on various practices and conceptions of learning to teach for social justice. We use social justice as an umbrella term to cover projects that differ in their focus (e.g., culturally relevant pedagogy, antiracist pedagogy, intercultural teaching) but share the common aim of preparing teachers to recognize, name, and combat inequity in schools and society.

In fall 2009, as we were immersed in the process of working with authors, editing manuscripts, and conceptualizing the editorial for this issue, Mary Travers, the passionate, female vocalist of the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, passed away. Her death saddened members of our editorial team, as it undoubtedly saddened many teacher educators of a certain age both in this country and beyond its borders, who grew up to the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary and developed their social consciousness to the tunes that became anthems of the civil rights and antiwar movements. (1) Memories of those songs sparked the idea for organizing this piece. The lyrics of "If I Had a Hammer," written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays but spread "all over this land" by Peter, Paul, and Mary, seemed both appropriate and timely for framing an editorial on the status of social justice in teacher education as represented by the articles in this issue. (2)

Seeger and Hays wrote "If I Had a Hammer" in 1949 with the labor rights movement in mind, using three symbols associated with the workplace of the time: the hammer, the bell, and the song. The lyrics reminded workers that they already had in their hands the means to bring about equality. The hammer, the characteristic tool of the laborer, could be transformed into the hammer of justice. The bell that marked the beginning and ending of the workday could become the bell of freedom. The songs that men, women, and children have historically sung to ease the drudgery of hard labor could become songs about love and caring for one another. In this editorial, we apply the metaphorical tools of hammer, bell, and song to the topic of learning to teach for social justice. We interpret the hammer as the tools (theories, ideologies, epistemologies, and practices) we have for learning and teaching about social justice. We see the bell as the means of sending a clear and persuasive message to educators and teacher educators about the relevance of teaching for social justice. We understand the song as the means to unite those who may agree on the goals of teaching for social justice but may disagree on how to go about achieving them, as well as to convince those who may not support those goals that we must work together to create a just, democratic society. We argue that the hammer, the bell, and the song must be used in concert and in balance if we are to advance an agenda for learning to teach for social justice.

The Hammer of Justice

A hammer is a hand tool used to deliver a blow or make an impact. While most often used to build or construct, it can also be used to break down, deconstruct, or destroy. In teaching and teacher education, the hammer represents the theories, ideologies, epistemologies, and practices used to fight against social injustice. Teacher educators have a number of hammers at their disposal. …

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