Maxwell Kane is a big, clumsy boy who is enrolled in the learning disabled classes at his school. As a self-conscious pubescent boy, he calls himself a butthead. The L.D. classes are not helping because of the stigma that is associated with them. Once Max is planted in those classes, he feels like he has been labeled dumb for life. It is his friend Kevin, however, who teaches him that learning is fun, words are not scary, and believing in someone can work wonders.
First of all, Kevin actually keeps a dictionary with him most of the time. In chapter 8, he teaches Max how to use one. The first word Kevin has Max lookup is "archetype" so he can learn why Kevin refers to dragons as such. Max is confused by the first definition and Kevin says:
"You're hopeless. Pattern is the first definition. I was referring to the second definition, which is more interesting. 'A universal symbol or idea in the psyche, expressed in dream or dreamlike images'" (47).
This is the first step for Max with regards to boosting his reading skills. The next thing Kevin does is get Max out of L.D. classes and into the smarter classes with him. The excuse is that Kevin needs Max to help him get around, but Kevin really believes in Max, too. For example, Kevin tells the teacher that Max knows the answers to questions. Max then realizes that he does know the answers by saying the following:
"As a matter of fact I do know the answer. . . and I know about that because Freak has been showing me how to read a whole book and for some reason it all makes sense, where before it was just a bunch of words I didn't care about" (81).
This passage shows that having a caring friend who is willing to take the time to help another person out goes a long way. Another thing Kevin does to help Max with reading and writing is explaining to him the following:
"Like Freak says, reading is just a way of listening, and I could always listen, but writing is like talking, and that's a whole other ball game" (82).
Even though writing is still a struggle for Max, at least this analogy might help, along with Kevin's support and confidence in him. Also, Kevin gives Max a customized dictionary of his favorite words for Christmas. But what actually gets Max motivated to write is when Kevin is dying, and he gives Max a book with blank pages. He tells him to write their adventures in it for him. Kevin says:
"Write it down, dummy. I was going to do it, but now it looks like I'll be busy getting used to my new bionic body. . . Just write it all down like you're talking. Put in all the fun we had, the cool things we did. Our adventures" (150-151).
The book Freak the Mighty is the evidence that proves Max does write down their adventures. He's not a "butthead" anymore because he learns to read and is given a reason to write.
The irony of your question is that Max’s increased ability to read and write (encouraged by Kevin) is exactly what makes Max stop feeling like a “butthead.” It is an error, though, to think Max is unable to read and write at the beginning of the novel. Max can, in fact, both read and write at the beginning of his eighth grade year. The fact is that Max simply does not want to. The reason why is that Max has been diagnosed with a learning disability and is therefore very self-conscious. The way that Kevin encourages Max to hone his reading skills is by researching their different quests. For example, if they are slaying pretend “dragons,” then Kevin has Max read about dragons. In regards to writing, the main way Kevin encourages Max is by asking him to write down their adventures. At first, Max is overwhelmed by the task; however, after Kevin’s death, Max realizes that this is the perfect way to immortalize his friend.