Rachel Zemach grew up with parents who made children’s books for a living and did not believe in either conformity or stability. They left Boston, Massachusetts when she was six, to find a new home in Europe. Having lived in five countries by the time she was nine, Rachel is still confused to this day. In her fifties now, she still stalls for time when asked where she is from.
Rachel became Deaf at age ten in an accident (which was not unpleasant nor tragic despite people insisting it must have been), but it had no impact on her love of language and literature. As a teenager, back in the U.S., she discovered the charged, idiosyncratic Deaf world and the lavishly expressive and comprehensive, 3-D language of ASL (American Sign Language).
From age ten up, she attended many different kinds of schools, most of which she got bad grades due to not hearing anything the teachers said, nor having any access via interpreters. But, whether in spite of—or because of—her inferior education, she felt strongly drawn to teaching. Later, while raising two children and running a mosaic tile business, she finally got a Deaf education teaching credential. She found a job teaching a Deaf class in a public school near her home.
The Butterfly Cage
After ten years of teaching Deaf students in this hearing school district, Rachel decided to write a memoir of this experience, in order to educate others, improve the experiences of Deaf children and try to start a national dialogue about mainstream Deaf education. Readers will meet individual students, watch raucous and often surprising class endeavors and discussions, and see Rachel’s personal journey as her identity as a Deaf person undergoes a dramatic shift.
Zemach lives with her husband, who she has remained with despite the fact that he can hear and signs very poorly, which may be why he calls her his hamburger instead of his wife. In their home are two cats, Ratfink and Puppy, one of whom Rachel loves deeply.
On an unrelated note, she wants to warn you never to call a cat “Puppy” because it’s a slippery slope. Some day you might find yourself patting a large dog and conversationally saying “meow” to it, which will draw stares from passersby. This may make you question your mental health, for even hamburgers have standards.
In “The Butterfly Cage,” Rachel Zemach fills that gap, and then some! Writing from the perspective of both a Deaf student, and long-time Deaf teacher of the Deaf, Rachel enabled me to finally gain some real insight into the severe impediments to learning that we educators create for our Deaf students…
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