This essay at Inside Higher Ed might be of interest to anyone who reads this blog. It talks about Hadji Murat (one of Wittgenstein's favorites), Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, and disappointing works of contemporary, popular non-fiction. The author, Brendan Boyle, says that his students read Eating Animals but not only found it unmoving, they also failed to understand it. J. M. Coetzee has said of this book:
The everyday horrors of factory farming are evoked so vividly, and the case against the people who run the system is presented so convincingly, that anyone who, after reading Foer’s book, continues to consume the industry’s products must be without a heart, or impervious to reason, or both.Boyle's students are at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, considered one of the best universities in the country. He believes that they read the book, but reports sadly that:
None of the 20 who came to the seminar became a vegetarian. The best I got were vague professions about more ethical eating. "I’ll only eat free-range," said one student. "I’m only eating chicken from now on," said another. These sound like good outcomes, consistent with the aims of a program designed to get students to "think more deeply" about the topic at hand. But they are incoherent things to say after reading Safran Foer’s book, which memorably demolishes the meaningless moniker "free range." And if there were one animal you would not want to eat after reading the book, it is the chicken.From this he concludes that his students did not understand the book, which I think might be the wrong conclusion to draw. Knowing that meat comes from a "free range" animal is not knowing very much about its life, but the book is mostly against factory farming, so that if you knew that the meat came from an animal that had lived outside without significant confinement or crowding then you might agree with the book and still think it was OK to eat this meat. But to only eat chicken would be a very strange reaction, as Boyle points out. So I think he is probably right that his students really are not very good at reading with comprehension. Those who came away thinking they would only eat free-range might have understood it. The rest might lack a heart, be impervious to reason, or simply be incapable of reading properly.
In conclusion: Brie seems to have been right, you should read Boyle's essay, and even some very good students still seem to need to learn how to read. I hope we can teach them.