It’s one thing to acknowledge February as Black History Month; it’s another to open a book and learn. That learning is what’s happening in North Dakota schools and schools across the nation, amid what have been difficult times.
“A professor at Bismarck State College spoke history and that appealed to me because I think history is a different way of thinking,” Legacy High School AP U.S. History Teacher Landen Schmeichel said.
Schmeichel said the professor’s inspiration led him to become a history teacher. He continues to encourage that “different way of thinking” at Legacy High School in Bismarck.
“I think it’s a different way of thinking that our society would be well served to embrace more often,” Schmeichel said.
The lack of a different way of thinking and learning from the past was on full display when KX News visited, as Schmeichel showed to his class images of some of the atrocities perpetrated against Black people.
“The lynching without due process,” Legacy High School Junior Gage Speidel said. “I knew it was a thing that white supremacist groups did; I didn’t know it was so prevalent and that states like Georgia [were] protecting lynchers from persecution legally.”
“It definitely gave me chills, but knowing about it is very powerful and realizing what they really went through,” Legacy High School Junior Maggie Dockter said.
Though major strides have been made, conflicts remain. Yet despite needing to teach both the positives and negatives of history, Schmeichel said what the month of February is designated as is often misunderstood.
“I want to be clear that it’s not a month where we talk about what was done to Black people. Black History Month is a month to celebrate what African Americans have done to contribute to this nation,” Schmeichel said. “It’s not just a month; we talk about African American history all throughout the year. But choosing a specific time to say we’re going to value this specific community within American history, I think that’s a big part in what we need to do in who the country we really mean to be.”
And with what he teaches, Schmeichel said it’s up to his students to take that knowledge and better our country.
“If it is ‘We the People,’ then we should really represent and understand the history of ‘We the People,” Schmeichel said.
“I always try to be mindful of other people no matter what their circumstances are, especially if I don’t know their circumstances,” Speidel said.
“We are more alike than different and realizing that we are all just trying to grow as a community and as a country,” Dockter said.
If Landen Schmeichlel looks familiar to you, we spoke with him in October, after he’d been awarded the James Madison Memorial Fellowship.
The fellowship is awarded to a teacher, based on their commitment to teaching constitutionally relevant topics.