The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Distinctions Among Howlers

by M. W. Middleton
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 387-389

I am venturing to revert to an old subject in writing on "howlers" found in school examinations, as, in the course of examining, I have found that the classification of "howlers" can be the most instructive. It is obvious that the examiner is trying to ascertain (by a method which is not infallible the knowledge and ability of candidates, or the merits of the teaching that they are receiving. He must therefore be grateful for anything in the papers which helps him in this search, and the so-called "howlers" are often valuable in this way, as well as in forming a cheerful break in monotony.

A few instances, gathered lately from my own experience, will best illustrate my point.

(1) The first group shews intelligence and original thought, an effort at independent expression being clearly visible through the faults. In some cases, one can follow the process in the child's mind, and can discover a course of reasoning far more creditable than the effort of memory which may prompt a more correct answer.

In answer to, What is a parable? "He thought it better not to tell them, but teach them by parables." Also, "It is a tale spoken against somebody to tell them that they have been doing the same."

In answer to, What is London noted for? "Nearly everything."

Definitions "The superlative degree is the highest position a word can be in."

"Fain means would very much have liked, but could not have it."

"Ahead means to get as far possible."

(2) The second group contains clear evidence of guess-work, of which few people in this age of examinations can feel quite guiltless. The guesses are more or less ingenious, and shew a tendency towards drawing analogies --not always without some thought and ability.

In history. "The Domesday Book was a small book in which prayers were written."

"Baede was a very good monk, though when he died he was not good enough to be called Saint, so they called him Venerable Baede."

"The Battle of the Spurs was so called from spurs being first introduced."

In French translation, for 'Le rouge-gorge chante' "The roaring gorge sings."

For the plural of memorandum Memoranduma.

(3) The third set of examples contains those due to imperfect memory of the words of book or instructor, not intelligently understood. These are the commonest failings of all, and the most insidious, now that the notes of teachers, as well as the words of text books, are often so neatly expressed. Such answers should suggest a warning to all teachers, and are often disappointing to those who have carefully planned out their lessons; for however well this has been done, nothing can take the place of the pupil's own work of assimilation.

In history. "S. Patrick, when he was sixteen, escaped from where he was."

"The Reformation was when the people tried to introduce the prayer-book to be translated into the Bible."

"If I had served my God, as I served my king, he would not have rid me of my gray hairs."

In geography. "Strait is a piece of land jutting out into the water, as the Straits of Dover."

"Kidderminster is noted for Brussels carpets."

In grammar. "The past participle must always agree, and generally remains invariable."

"A demonstrative adjective is a word used when speaking of animals, as a cat."

Of S. Stephen. "The people were very angry and gnashed at him with his teeth."

Of Dorcas. "She was a very god woman, who used to give her old clothes to the poor people."

(4) Yet another class of answers shews the natural vagueness of a child's mind--with the nebulous ideas so often left by those teaching young children. This is usually found among children of the greatest ability and imagination, and is by no means a sign of stupidity; in fact, this subject is one of special interest, though it can now only be touched upon.

In history. "George I. was the son of Edward the Black Prince or William of Orange."

"1689, Episcopacy was also used about this time."

"Mary Queen of Scots was the Queen of England, but the English did not like her, so they had Elizabeth selected by the Witan."

"Nelson fought in the battle of Hastings, and won it on Senlac Hill, 1066."

In Scripture. "The mustard seed is the people who hear the word gladly."

(5) Lastly, there are the merely verbal blunders, which appear more important than they really are, but which are not always without significance.

"The white ship strunk on a reed."

"There were thirteen competitioners for the throne."

"The Wars of the Roses were caused by the rivality between Somerset and York."

"The Yorkists wore a badger of a white rose."

"The South of Scotland abounds in green pastors."

"Boot means plunder, from bot, a prophet."

"H mute is the h that is not exasperated."

"He was noted for uprighteousness."

Many other examples might be added, but these suffice to show the point, and to illustrate the manner in which "howlers" may give an insight into the mind of the writer, whether that writer be a child still living in the world of fancy, or one bent on mischief.

Examinations, when not abused, form a useful means for ascertaining the quantity and quality of knowledge acquired, as well as the power of expressing the same, and the task before examiners is to make the best use of possible of this medium. So that, even through faults, something may be learnt by the teacher or the taught.

Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July, 2010