Today’s Assignment: A Definition of Family That Everyone Can Love


Will Saletan tweets unhappily that his son was “marked down 5 percent on a high school health test because he chose this ‘incorrect’ definition of family.” David French is unhappy too:

How reassuring that our educators — in their infinite wisdom — have expanded the definition of “family” to “a collection of individuals who care for and about each other.” But to paraphrase The Incredibles — If everyone is family, then no one is. I’ve “cared for and about” my classmates in high school, college, and law school. I’ve “cared for and about” my colleagues at every job I’ve held. I guess we’re all family now.

Look, this is probably just a lousy question. Even Saletan and French, I assume, would agree that answer C is obviously incorrect. Adopted children are family. In-laws are family. Stepfathers are family. “Related by blood” just flatly doesn’t work.

On the other hand, yes, answer E seems mighty broad—though I’m not sure if there’s any decent way to succinctly define family at all. I’ll note that my dictionary needs four separate definitions just to encompass the usage we’re talking about here (i.e., not including crime syndicates, taxonomic classifications, etc.).

But there’s no need to get too outraged about this. There’s certainly value in teaching our kids that sharing DNA isn’t the exclusive definition of family. And while we should probably be able to do better than answer E, the more I think about it, the harder it gets. Anyone want to take a stab? We all promise not to laugh.