As I read through these lectures, though, I'm struck by some of the differences between college and high school teaching:
1) This lecture is basically an essay, albeit a rather loose one. Having prepared this two-day take on Blood Meridian, Hungerford (if she's lazy, or busy working on her own research and writing) can now teach it year after year without even re-reading the novel. If she doesn't want to, she has no need to test and refine her interpretation by re-reading and having to account for the many parts of the novel that she more or less ignores. (This is what Nabokov did before embarking on his teaching career in America—wrote a series of lectures on literature, later collected as a book, that he delivered verbatim for the rest of his time as an instructor.)
2) She also won't have her reading tested by students' questions. The class discussion here is quite shallow. She asks her students if they liked the book; then she asks why. That's it. After that, it's all pre-packaged lecture. I suppose students, if they have more specific questions, can go talk to her during her office hours, but that probably won't happen much, and it's also much easier to handle (or deflect) a tough question one-on-one in private than it is to do so on the spot in front of a whole class of students.
3) It's only in the day-to-day reading and discussion—the type that tends to go on in high school classrooms—that the teacher is really forced to make sense of an entire book, and to be prepared for the type of close questioning that makes for a satisfying close reading. As a student, having worked my way through Blood Meridian for this class, I think I would feel pretty dissatisfied by these two class sessions. A high school teacher would probably spend twenty classes on a book like this.
4) I'm also willing to bet that a healthy percentage of the students in this class didn't even read Blood Meridian. There were no quizzes to hold them accountable for doing so, no class discussion to prepare for. And they can probably write their papers on one of the other books assigned for the class if they want to.
5) The lecture doesn't seem to have a lot to do with what Blood Meridian might tell us about being human, about living life. Hungerford's topic is pretty rarified: what this book has to do with other literary works. Hungerford's ultimate point seems to be that the book is about itself and about how novels are just as important and valid a source of truth as history. Okay, but that's a kind of self-enclosed meaning that leaves aside most of the interesting implications and questions raised by this novel. In the end, listening to Hungerford's lecture, I start to wonder, why is literature a field of study? Why does it deserve to be an academic department if it's just a bunch of people tracking down allusions in a bunch of texts that just refer to themselves?
6) I suppose I sound like a bitter high school teacher here, resentful of the college professor with her cushy job. But that's only half of it. The other half is why I decided not to pursue my Ph.D. and become a college teacher myself. The fact is, I like going in day after day and really working up close with a text. I like re-reading a book year after year and refining my interpretation. I like spending four weeks on Huck Finn, or six weeks on Invisible Man, or a semester on The Odyssey. I like designing classes that engage discussion as a key part of the interpretive process. I like holding students accountable for the reading, giving them a reason to do the work. I like talking with students about the implications books and poems and stories and plays have for our lives.
Even when it's exhausting, high school teaching feels honest and important to me in a way that college teaching does not.