The Butterfly Cage

Joy, Heartache, and Corrupton: Teaching While Deaf in a California Public School

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Pub Date Apr 26 2023 | Archive Date Jul 15 2024


A tender and perspective-shifting book that offers a rare level of understanding about the subtle and and no-so-subtle layers of internalized oppression and deep feelings and dilemmas of Deaf people, written by former Deaf teacher Rachel Zemach.

This mesmerizing, funny, and disruptive narrative invites you to be a fly on the wall in a Deaf classroom at a hearing school, experiencing the immense frustration, unbridled joy, and indelible humor that arise for Deaf adults and children in a hearing environment.

"Those who are new or not as familiar with the needs of Deaf children are in for an eye-opening experience. The book starts out like a nice, leisurely drive through the countryside and then holy smokes-strap yourself in!-you realize you're in a fighter jet pulling 7 G's." - Mark Drolsbaugh, author of On The Fence

Rachel struggles with staff, administration, and aides who sabotage her efforts at every turn. The students contend with a principal who removes their textbooks, intercom announcements that are inaccessible and a system that renders them all defenseless against these dysfunctional and often absurd forces.

You’ll meet seven-year-old Laszlo, the brilliant, language-hungry boy who will capture your heart, and the political, fiercely intelligent elite members of the Deaf community who rally to change legislation after his life takes a shocking turn at age sixteen when he makes a heart-wrenching decision.

In a series of short, distinctive chapters, Zemach shares her personal Deafhood journey, poignant scenes from the classroom, shocking individualized education meetings and their impact, and the larger political and historical picture surrounding Deaf education.

"Rachel's gentle, wry, kind voice allows the reader to witness the shocking systemic indifference endured by Deaf children without looking away. But the voice that keeps you engaging and wanting to continue reading will also shatter your soul. Be prepared to emerge a new person with a Deaf heart." - consumer review

You will not be the same after reading The Butterfly Cage. It was written with the intention of sparking a national dialogue about the current state of Deaf education, and the lifelong impact of the language deprivation, oralism and audism that prevails in the majority of schools for the majority of our Deaf children, many of whom are unnecessarily set up for failure. Audism means unconscious discrimination towards Deaf culture and signing. 

More Reviews:

"In this brave, important and most timely book, Rachel Zemach...provided a superb account of what it is like to be a Deaf teacher striving for her pupils in a 'mainstream' system that does not understand their identities and needs." - Paddy Ladd, author of Seeing Through New Eyes: Deaf Culture and Pedagogies - The Unrecognized Curriculum

"The Butterfly Cage by Rachel Zemach is a remarkable, beautifully written, and important book. For those of us involved in education and with any experience with the vibrant Deaf Community in America, this is absolutely required reading." - Larry Siegal, Author, Special Ed. Attorney and Hastings Law Professor

"Zemach brings her students to life for us, and shares their trials and triumphs, heartbreaks and moments of pure joy, all while taking us along for the twists and turns of her own life journey." - Mal May, California School for the Deaf school psychologist

"I loved this book for many reasons. Rachel captures so vividly the frustrations, challenges, and joys of teaching in a public school. Rachel's compassion, dedication, and humor come through on every page." - consumer review

Who should read this book:

  • People who enjoy well-written, entertaining and powerful memoir
  • Readers interested in diversity, unfamiliar cultures, or language.
  • Parents and anyone in contact with Deaf people whether professionally or personally
  • Teachers, of any kind
  • ASL students
  • ASL interpreters
  • Anyway with intimate experience of being Deaf or growing up with Deaf people will be able to strongly relate and experience some catharsis between these pages. 
  • Those with NO background in this area, who wish to learn and be immersed in a new world of visual language and wonderful children.

The Butterfly Cage comes with ASL Videos (captioned) and supplementary materials for college-level class discussions/assignments. Book group discussion questions also provided.

A tender and perspective-shifting book that offers a rare level of understanding about the subtle and and no-so-subtle layers of internalized oppression and deep feelings and dilemmas of Deaf people...

Available Editions

ISBN 9781959804505

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