As the school year starts to wrap up, it’s a good time to reflect on lessons students take away from our classes. The terms, facts, and details of biology certainly have their place, but it’s also useful to take a step back and consider larger themes. At Brandeis University where I teach, one theme my students and I increasingly focus on is our connection with one another and all living things with which we share our planet.

This topic essentially focuses on the idea of family—we are linked through inheritance with one another and indeed every organism on Earth. The poet Mary Oliver encouraged everyone to understand and take solace in these connections by “over and over announcing your place / in the family of things” (Oliver, 1986).

Darwin, too, emphasized the idea of family in the only figure he included in the Origin of Species—a very...

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