The Butterfly Cage

Rachel Zemach

Joy, heartache, and corruption: Teaching while Deaf in a California public school.

This book is tender, funny, surprising, and disruptive. You'll be a fly on the wall in a Deaf classroom in a public school, watching a Deaf teacher struggle with staff, administration, and aides who sabotage the teachers at every turn. You’ll also see the children struggle with a principal who removes their textbooks, a vindictive, power-hungry speech therapist, and a system that leaves them defenseless against it.

You'll also meet a language-hungry boy who will capture your heart and run away with it and the political, fiercely intelligent elite members of the Deaf community who rally to change legislation after his life takes a shocking turn. Learn from these true stories of individual students and their quirky, fallible teacher, what the deepest feelings and dilemmas of Deaf and hard of hearing people are, and why 90% of our students around the country are being unnecessarily set up for failure.

Available April 2023

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About The Author

Rachel Zemach

Rachel Zemach was hearing for half her childhood and Deaf the other half, after an accident left her Deaf at age ten. But it wasn’t until much later, over a ten-year period when she taught a Deaf class in a hearing, public school, that she began to identify as Deaf-with-a-capital-D.

5 reviews for The Butterfly Cage

  1. Mark Drolsbaugh

    “This is a powerful read. Those who have worked in the field of Deaf education and truly get it will nod affirmatively. 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. Rachel Zemach masterfully leads you through a world where we can and should be doing better. For good measure, Zemach adds a comprehensive list of tips and strategies that are must-read for parents, teachers, administrators, and allies of the Deaf community. A valuable resource.”

    Mark Drolsbaugh, author of Deaf Again

  2. John Geogegehan

    The Butterfly Cage blows the lid off the California public school system’s treatment of deaf students. You will be both enlightened and outraged!”

    John Geogegehan, author of Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow: A True Story of Love, Hearing Loss, Heartbreak and Redemption

  3. Larry Siegal

    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 a required reading. But Ms. Zemach takes us way beyond to the larger issue of the beauty and diversity of language and the fundamental right that we should all have to to develop and access language. I am honored to recommend this book.

    Larry Siegal, author, Special Education attorney and Hastings law professor

  4. Raymond Luczak

    “Many books about educating the Deaf have struck me as a tad dry, but Rachel Zemach’s The Butterfly Cage is anything but dry. She shares her many years of teaching her Deaf students while trying to work within the “system” to provide a better—and more equitable—experience for them. While this may seem like a “big-picture” book filled with some truly heartbreaking scenes, we do meet many unforgettable characters, all of whom are beautifully rendered to illustrate clearly how and what must change in the future. The Butterfly Cage is a clarion call not only to reconsider how Deaf students have been historically served but also how they deserve a far better chance now to improve their own lives not as Deaf people trying to be hearing, which is actually a form of oppression which is brilliantly delineated in these pages, but as Deaf people as themselves with their own set of unique cultural attributes: diverse, vibrant, and powerful.”

    Raymond Luczak, author of A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life

  5. Mal May

    The Butterfly Cage is a fascinating and heartfelt dive into the hidden world of education for Deaf children in a public “mainstream” school. 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. Whether or not you’ve ever known and loved a Deaf child — or any child — this is a book you won’t want to miss.”

    Mal May, former school psychologist at a school for the Deaf

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