William Saletan tweeted the following image, commenting that his son lost five points on his health test for giving the “wrong” answer:


That is one mess of a question. First, Saletan’s son gave an incorrect (or at least incomplete) answer. However, the “correct” answer is wrong, too. In fact, those are the only ones that are demonstrably wrong. The others may be right or wrong depending on one’s perspective on the way that things should be. To mark those wrong is to expressly deduct points to someone for having the wrong opinion. The first two might be right or wrong also depending on perspective, but it’s not quite the same level of opinion involved as there are legal ramifications and such.

Kid Saletan’s answer is wrong because adoption is a thing, and the “correct” answer is wrong because that would describe my former roommate and myself, and we weren’t a family.

It’s not a really easy question to ask in any event. The only answer that I would be comfortable calling correct is something along the lines of “People who live together, care for one another, and consider themselves a family.” That leaves out the part about intended perpetuity (of the relationship, if not the living arrangements), though that has a degree of subjectivity to it. But then, so does any attempt to define “family.” Which makes the inclusion of the question all the more questionable.

Category: School

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10 Responses to Defining Family

  1. greginak says:

    Yeah it’s a terrible question. Are a married couple a family? My wife and i dont’ share blood ties but are we still a family. How about my nieces and nephews through my wife. No blood ties with them.

  2. Autolukos says:

    I don’t think the “living together” condition works; we don’t generally say that children and parents are no longer family when the children move out.

  3. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    Meh, I’m sure in class he was taught the “right” answer.

    A multiple-choice test isn’t the place to show off how clever one is.

  4. trumwill says:

    Greg kinda got me thinking about Lukos’ comment before he made it. There seems to be a interesting linguistic thing in my mind that differentiates “family” and “a family.” I think of my parents as family, but I don’t think of my parents and my siblings and I as “a family.” And the difference being related to living together and more generally operating as “a family unit.”

    I don’t know if this is a quirk with me, or whether it’s a more common distinction. Seems to me to be the latter.

    In any case, the question is “family” in which case my “a family” definition is inaccurate.

  5. Autolukos says:

    I think your distinction is common (I certainly use it), but even the indefinite article isn’t a very strong guide: the Bushes are a family (in several senses), even though they’re no longer A Family (in the sense of a household that presents as a family).

    The OED has 6 main categories just for describing human groups. That someone thought this was a reasonable multiple choice question boggles the mind.

    • Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

      It was reasonable because in class he was taught the “right” answer.

      • trumwill says:

        Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe so. Or maybe he wasn’t paying attention because he figured he would get credit for the right answers rather than the one fed to him.

        • Tod Kelly says:

          Or maybe something else?

          I hate to be a spoilsport, but 95% of the time I see these “that’s so outrageous it’s unbelievable” things on social media, it turns out that they never really existed other than on social media.

          Has anyone checked to see if this actually happened, or if it’s just clickbait?

        • Trumwill says:

          It’s Will Saletan. He would not risk his credibility (or career) for a Tweet.

          Beyond which, he is of a (moderately) liberal bent, so there’s not much ideological motivation, either.

        • Gabriel Conroy says:

          To me, Saleton’s example seems more like a brief against multiple choice testing than anything. That’s why I buy into the “it’s so [maybe not ‘outrageous,’ but vexing!” point that I take from his example. It’s believable to me that a lazy health class teacher (or inane testing requirements) choose a multiple choice format to test students on what is really a very nuanced matter.

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