Timothy McSweeney once described Theo Huxtable from The Cosby Show as a “Byronic Hero.” Besides Theo’s good looks, McSweeney points to Byron’s clubfoot as a disability that made the hero stand-apart. However, the same can be said of Theo. For the majority of the series’ early years, Theo was a classic case of a bad student. However, The Cosby Show remarkably changed peoples’ opinion of the character after it was revealed that he suffered from a disability. This left audiences wondering how great of a student he could have been if his parents had diagnosed him early on, and if they had done their research on schools for dyslexia.
The particular episode that revealed Theo’s disability was entitled “Theo’s Gift,” which first aired in 1989. For many viewers, this show was the first time they had heard of the learning disability. Although the series did not show Theo enrolling in any schools for dyslexia, it still demonstrated some of the difficulties that students had with decoding words and how it could negatively affected students’ reading levels. Instead of representing Theo as the “bad student” with no one to blame but himself, the series pinpointed the learning disability as the root cause of his difficulty in school. Moreover, the show also offered a subtle critique of the current state of public education by implying that had Theo’s disability been discovered earlier, he could have been a better student.
Although Theo eventually received support from his current school, the series could have shown how schools for dyslexia have specific ways of helping students learn how to overcome their challenges and increase their reading level. Furthermore, because they are specialized in that learning disability, those schools offer a more accepting environment that could have potentially helped Theo overcome his disability.
As The Cosby Show progressed over the years, Theo’s dyslexia motivated the character to help others that shared his difficulties. Rather than feel defeated from realizing that he had the learning disability, Theo worked hard to eventually open one of the first schools for dyslexia ever depicted on television. It is difficult to know for sure, but it is likely that the series’ positive representation of the disability helped not only spread awareness about dyslexia, but also helped many students finally understand why they found it so difficult to read.
It can be very difficult to educate children. Home life and undiagnosed disabilities like dyslexia can truly get in the way of teachers’ efforts to help students reach their ultimate potential. Because general education schools have to focus on teaching to the majority of students, they lose their ability to create customized education plans that can support students with special needs. For this reason, schools for dyslexia and other disabilities are a great help for a number of students. While they require that students leave the only kind of schooling they have come to know, they also offer some of the best resources to assist those students with special needs. Because so many students can fall through the cracks in the education system, Theo Huxtable’s advocacy for schools for dyslexia is truly commendable.