Starkville, Mississippi

I was hired as a Research Associate, a junior level faculty position, at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. I bought my first farm in Mississippi and designed and built my first house. The job included consulting in West Africa, and matriculation for a PhD. We arrived in Starkville the fall of 1979.  I was able to combine my work as a “research associate” with my dissertation research. The disappointment resulting from leaving the pioneer field in Africa was quickly forgotten by a new life, and the open doors that guided me to this position.

Aileen arrived in Starkville not knowing her name and with no verbal skills, neither receptive nor expressive. Aileen was a little over 3 years old when we arrived in Starkville. Her hearing impairment was at the top of the scale (there is no hearing impairment beyond “profoundly deaf”, her measured hearing). One of the measures of her success is that she discounts these facts and minimises her hearing loss. She cannot comprehend the point from where she started, and I think part of this is related to the world she lived in during the first 3 years of her life before we began auditory training.

God gave us the instruments and means to provide loving, competent and state-of-the-art support to Aileen. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975. When we arrived in Mississippi, the school system didn’t have any idea what this meant and what they needed to do. We were involved in negotiations about the services they would provide under this law. Suffice it to say, the school system was worried about how much this would cost. This act required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate handicapped children and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students. Before Congress enacted Public Law 94-142 schools were not required to educate children with disabilities whatsoever. Some states even had laws that allowed them to deny access to education of children with disabilities (probably including Mississippi). Interestingly, one of Hillary Clinton’s first jobs was to work for the Children’s Defense Fund, which fought for this act.