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Does Bart Simpson Have a Learning Disability?

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Does Bart Simpson have a learning disability, and could that explain his bad behavior at home and at school? What can we learn from his struggles?

Bart Simpson is an extremely extroverted kid who figured out a long time ago he was not that good in the classroom. He worries that he is as “dumb as a post” but tries to hide his low self-esteem behind his cool kid attitude. He constantly draws attention to himself in class because he craves the attention and approval of his peers. The more encouragement he gets from them, the more he feels better about himself. He takes pride in being the class clown because he doesn’t know what else he can be.

In the season two episode “Bart Gets an F” it is hinted that he might have some sort of learning difficulty in the classroom. At the start of the episode, Bart is asked by his teacher to give his book report on “Treasure Island” to the class. Bart does a terrible job with his presentation. It is obvious to everyone that he has not read “Treasure Island.” His speech is filled with long pauses and information that can be figured out from just looking at the front cover of the book. He gets a failing grade.

Why doesn’t Bart put more effort into his report? Is he lazy or is he lacking in confidence? It’s almost like he expects to fail every single test, so that is why he doesn’t put in much effort.

After class, Bart’s teacher pulls him aside and asks him if he is aware that his grades have been slipping. Mrs. Krabappel is frustrated with Bart and is worried he is going to fail the fourth grade, so she encourages him to study for an upcoming test. Bart struggles to pay attention during the conversation and later that night gets distracted and puts off studying.

The next morning he is afraid he is going to fail, so he pretends to be sick to get out of class and is sent home. That night Bart procrastinates again and rings up his best friend Millhouse to get the test answers off him. This turns out to be a bad idea. Millhouse is not much smarter than Bart. Bart does terribly on the test because most of the answers Millhouse gave him were wrong. Mrs. Krabappel arranges for Bart and his parents to have a meeting with a school psychiatrist who suggests that Bart might have to repeat the fourth grade.

Bart is horrified at the suggestion and declares that he will prove them all wrong and pass the fourth grade. His parents and his teacher are skeptical of his chances. Bart enlists the help of the school nerd Martin to help him study for an upcoming test, and even prays to God to give him an extra day to prepare — which God grants him. Bart is finally taking his studies seriously and not procrastinating anymore. When he sits down to take his final exam, Bart is nervous but makes a bigger effort. When he finishes the test he gives it to Mrs. Krabappel and asks if she could grade it for him right away, which she does. He gets a 59 percent — another failing grade.

Bart mutters “Oh no,” and then breaks down into tears. Mrs. Krabappel is surprised by this reaction and asks him “What’s the matter? I would have thought you would have been used to failing by now.” Bart turns to her with tears in his eyes and replies, “You don’t understand. I really tried this time. I mean I really tried.” He puts his head down on the table and starts pounding his fists in frustration. “This is as good as I can do and I still failed. Who am I kidding?” he sobs. “I really am a failure.”

My heart breaks for Bart in this scene because I know how he feels. When I was growing up I felt a lot like Bart Simpson. I have four learning disabilities. I can remember sitting in math class and panicking during a test because I had no idea how to figure out any of the answers. It can be exhausting. You start to wonder “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I pass a test? Why can’t I figure out the answers?” Things got so bad I eventually stopped putting any effort into tests and started writing down random answers. My teachers were quick to fail me and not even question if I was doing OK. I was just another “dumb kid” in the back of the class. I never got used to failure. It stung every single time.

What makes “Bart Gets an F” such a great episode is the positive note it ends on. While still sobbing over his test result, Bart tells Mrs. Krabappel he now understands how George Washington must have felt when he had to surrender Fort Necessity to the French in 1754. His comments stun Mrs. Krabappel, who realizes that he was telling the truth when he said he’d really tried to study this time. She gives him an extra point on his exam for demonstrating applied knowledge, which pushes his grade up to a passing mark. Bart is so overcome with joy he kisses her on the cheek, then runs out of the room shaking his test paper in celebration.

“Bart Gets an F” shows that kids who have learning disabilities never, ever get used to failing. We are not lazy or spoiled or a little bit dim. We’re just a little bit different. Bart was able to prove to his teacher by the end of this episode that he does care what people think of him, and he does care about his school work. He was just suffering from low self-esteem. The worst thing you can do to kids like Bart is dismiss them as useless. If you give them a little bit of attention and a bit of encouragement, you might be surprised what they can achieve. The episode ends with Bart proudly putting his D-minus test result on the fridge at home. The moral of the story: he tried his best, and that’s all that counts.

Image via Wikipedia.

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