Jack Crouse retiring after 20 years at SMC

Published 7:21 am Friday, April 4, 2014

Jack Crouse gave his last lecture April 1 after 20 years of teaching at Southwestern Michigan College. (Submitted photo)

Jack Crouse gave his last lecture April 1 after 20 years of teaching at Southwestern Michigan College. (Submitted photo)

Jack Crouse talked about “the power of human speech” for his Last Lecture, setting aside suspicion his much-anticipated address, its subject shrouded in secrecy, might be an elaborate April 1 ruse.

“You control most of your destiny based on what pops out of your pie hole,” said Crouse, 70, who has lectures left in his last month before retiring after two decades at Southwestern Michigan College.

“Relationships require communication to start. They don’t happen by themselves,” Crouse said in the theatre of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus.

“The cause of love is a mystery to most, but it’s how someone makes you feel about yourself.”

Young children adore parents. “They want to hang on you like monkeys” until adolescence, then “they spend seven or eight years trying to destroy every bit of self-confidence. You are now the most uncool person who ever lived. Don’t compensate by trying to be cool. That embarrasses them. They want you to drop them two blocks away from their friends so they don’t see the dorky car you drive and the way you dress. They can’t wait to get a tattoo or piercings. You can’t get them through the metal detector on the way to Disney World. Someday they turn into you and have grandchildren. You will love them again,” the father of two assured.

“Stroking” keeps love alive. “It’s not hard for females. Men want to believe anything you tell us. Women, on the other hand, are more highly developed. I learned this from an older student who wanted a divorce. I listened attentively to her vent, made eye contact and nodded. Her husband was telling her she was beautiful. ‘Look at me,’ and she was on the dark side of the moon from beauty. If you’re going to stroke, ‘I find you attractive’ is a meaningful substitute.”

Babies can persuade, crying at “intolerable” volumes until needs are met. “Then they turn into children and start polishing persuasiveness” with tantrums, Crouse said. “Females are more persuasive than men. Statistically, they speak seven words to every one a man speaks. There are real dangers in modern society as persuasion becomes a vehicle to get our money. I’ve come to resent advertising techniques. They try to make you feel bad about yourself. The average American spends three years watching television commercials designed to make you feel poor, hungry or fat. If they succeed, you solve this with retail therapy. There’s almost a war on female self-esteem. Ages 15-25, 80 percent are dissatisfied with the way they look thanks to a barrage of unrealistic beauty.”

SMC in 1993 hired Crouse, who went to graduate school in India, to teach non-Western civilization covering the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan.

He transitioned into speech, “where I spent most of my time at SMC. Communication we do every day. What a wonderful thing to be able to teach people to do better. I believe with all my heart it’s the best skill you can have.”

Crouse, of Cassopolis, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from Valdosta, Ga., State College.

He taught history at Valdosta High School and social studies for St. Joseph pre-SMC, “the best job I’ve ever had and the best place I’ve worked.”

He loathed Saturday piano lessons as a boy among girls, chased there and home by a dog. He froze during the recital and wet his pants, which didn’t bode well for adulthood as the sage on the stage.

Only once he “figured out I despised hard, physical work,” did he consider teaching.

In high school, “I was told I had a behavior problem. Today I would be diagnosed with initials and medicated, but at that point I was just a ‘bad kid.’ My mother invented karma. She used to say, ‘God is punishing me.’ I always heard I was not ‘college material.’ Standing here as a retired college instructor is astounding.”

Crouse enlisted in the Air Force and went to Turkey, clashing with a superior. “(Officers) can make life wonderful or put you in jail,” he said of a “place for my bad attitude to shine” at 21. “He had six stripes on each sleeve. I told him if he didn’t I’d be happy to take him outside, which was stupid. He could have called (military police).”

Instead, the shorter, fortyish man peeled off his shirt, revealing “he seemed to be in pretty good shape, a wide-shouldered, rectangular human being. He said, ‘Let’s go.’ I landed the first punch with little effect. He became my mentor and taught me, ‘I see your point, I think you’re right,’ ” though the lesson didn’t click until Crouse, back in Georgia, met another “nemesis,” from Louisiana.

When Crouse uttered the magic words, “His face lit up in a smile. He never bothered me again. I didn’t change anything, but many times that phrase saved the day.”

“Things you say that hurt people, you’d be astounded how long they stay hurt and how bitter they can be,” such as the Miss St. Joseph harboring a grudge at their 50-year reunion for mocking her as “Queenie.”

“You were always the most beautiful girl in our class,” he said. “It was my clumsy way of trying to talk to you. I couldn’t get rid of her the rest of the night. Don’t ever underestimate the power of human speech. Other creatures are not blessed with ability to generate language.”

Speech is the “vehicle of human learning,” he said, “why we keep advancing. It’s tempting to be one of these old guys who think the world’s going to hell, but the truth is I have a great deal of hope. If there is such a thing as global warming, we’ll figure it out.”

No fooling, the audience threw flowers at his feet after his 48-minute remarks.