Dave Keirsey: Les Shuck remembers

Editor’s Note.

[Les Shuck was an important colleague of my father, Dr. David West Keirsey, for Les, as a school administrator, often ran cover for David’s “experiments” in human intervention for helping “troubled and troublesome kids.” — without punishment and drugs. For an analog, the dog whisperer Cesar Millan, changes the dog owner’s behavior as much as the dog’s behavior.  “Fixing the kid” also involved changing the adults (both parents and school personnel) behaviors too: not an easy task since the adults never saw themselves as part of the problem.    Les and my father often worked together to get results.  With the backing of Les and Leeland Newcomer, a Fieldmarshal Rational, (ENTJ in those days) my father gathered and developed his techniques of “corrective intervention” in Covina and Newport-Mesa School Districts.   In the bureaucratic school system, even in the fifties and sixties, it took significant strategic intelligence to swim against the traditional “simple fix” (which often made things worse) tide of beatings, other punishments, or chemical pill pushing.  Although chemistry wasn’t used as much in the fifties on children (most of psychiatry hadn’t caught on that easy money making trick yet),  it has grown wild ever since (because of money). ]

Les Shuck remembers:

Dave Keirsey, a True Professional, Associate and Friend as Seen, Experienced and Remembered by Les Shuck

First, my thank you to Mark Keirsey on behalf of Alice, Jan and Tammy for asking if I would like to contribute some thoughts about Dave Keirsey for otherwise, it is probably something that would have remained in my memory but not recorded to re-visit from time to time. My general observation is that many people when given an opportunity to write about someone focus more on what they say about themselves than the person being honored. Now, I have a better appreciation of why that is so because it is an interaction between individuals rather than a historical perspective about someone with whom they did not know personally. I have tried to keep the focus on Dave using experiences that involved both us but if I have drifted over the line here and there, please ignore it and enjoy Dave Keirsey and his family as I did and do.

Dave and I first met while staff members of what eventually became the Covina-Valley Unified School District, Covina, CA in the late 50’s. Dave was a psychologist and I was a green teacher with under grad work in biology with no training to be a teacher (turned out to be an advantage instead of a problem). We were both a part of the newly developed structure led By Paul Salmon, Supt. and Lee Newcomer Assistant Supt. who believed that Psychological Services should be an integral part of the organization. Paul and Lee were two outstanding bright guys to knew where to lead the school district. Dave and I benefited from these leaders more than we can ever truly know or express as they were on the cutting edge.

Dave was introduced to me at a district sponsored function surrounding the introduction of “temperament” and what it means as shown with the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) assessment of ETS (sometimes referred to as Briggs-Meyer). We did not know it at that moment, but later discovered were both on the same wave length and the same temperament (INTP). Later on I forced myself to act like an INTX so I could be an administrator as INTP’s have too much fun developing alternatives and getting them to work and then tend to loose interest once they are working. As a re-tread INTX, I found it easier to come to closure with less struggle and keep things working – I learned this from Dave.

This temperament commonality as well as working together to deal with students having problems led to professional respect which then extended into a life long personal friendship with Dave and his family. This means we were in frequent contact while both of us were in Covina, and later in Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Newport Beach, CA after I enticed Dave to develop a counseling program there. This relationship continued and matured when he went to Cal State Fullerton. Along the way, I shared in the adventures of Dave and Alice’s house/cabin and design/building years. Then later, we maintained contact during his official retirement era wherein Dave continued his work as an author. Alice summarized it one day like this, “We cashed in all of our retirements and decided to live on our brains.”

We had mutual respect and confidence for and in each other and that led to a scattering of events as follows: (not in any particular order but as they came into my mind)

Dave the Inventor and Developer

Some parents of children with personal behavior problems advised me, as a school principal, that if I would only “spank” their child when they seriously misbehaved, it would solve their problems. I approached this by mentioning the “Systematic Exclusion” approach Dave developed ” (later re-branded as Systematic Shortened Day as it does not sound so harsh). Some went along with this approach but there were hold outs for “spanking”. No matter how I approached this topic by saying “no” and why I would not “spank”, these parents perceived that I was not doing my job and would leave our conference dissatisfied, frustrated and the mis-behavior rolled on. One day, I conferred with Dave, as he was the psychologist assigned to me at the time. I asked him to design a Systematic Spanking Program. Dave balked but, I insisted even after his telling me, in no uncertain terms, as to why spanking was so ill advised, and especially with someone else’s child.

Dave brought back a one page plan using a matrix format called “Systematic Abuse of Children”. It laid out all the elements involved in spanking using terms such as: Position of the Victim (e.g. Bent over a chair, bent over holding ankles etc.), Torture Instrument to be used (e.g. hand, belt, switch etc.) Severity of the blows on the victim, (e.g. resulting in: redness, welts, bruises, cuts, blood etc.), How the victim was to be clothed/exposed (e.g. fully clothed, bare bottom, bare legs etc.) The look on the face of the Torturer (e.g. frown, grin, no expression etc.). These were only a few of the variables Dave presented as a part of the program. He definitely was trying to convince me not to proceed. I told Dave that it was just what I wanted and thanked him for his efforts.

I used this plan as a reference tool and discussion source with parents that persisted with the “spanking will solve all” (I did not show them the plan and used softened vocabulary). Consequently during 5 years of principalship only two of about 20 parents had me follow thru with their request after thinking and hearing about all the variables of spanking. It did not work with these two children but it did get us past the spanking “solution” and on to better ones.

Many years later Dave told me that he thought I was really serious about spanking and did not realize I was using his plan and the spanking variables to discourage parents of their solution so we could move onto a better methods of dealing with serious mis-behavior.

Dave the Convincer and Limb Sawer

On more than one occasion Dave and I would be discussing a problem or situation and he would come up with what seemed an idea that was interesting. In short time he would convince me that it was really a good and sound idea. Ideas had to be turned in plans that one could use to bring the things to life but while doing that, I also would be out there presenting the idea so that people could get the notion of things to come.

More than once, I would be out on a limb getting ready to launch the plan and Dave would wander into the office and say “Les, I have been thinking and I have changed my mind, I now think that idea is not a good one and it will not work”. There I was, way out on a limb and Dave was sawing it off at the trunk of the tree. There were never any fatalities but it was awkward at times. I was at fault for getting so enthused about the break-through Dave proposed. Finally, I did learn to control myself and let things age a bit as a result of these episodes so I would not get on limbs that Dave was preparing to saw off.

Dave the Personal and Direct to the Point Psychologist

On time Dave came into my office and I advised him of my family situation that soon would end in a divorce. I was upset, angry, heartbroken and feeling sorry for myself all at the same time and it was hard to get over it. I was not used to failing and clearly the marriage was a failure and could not be revived no matter how I tried.

I thought Dave could be helpful to me during this time and his advice was “It’s good for you Shuck, It will sweat some of the fat out of you ego”.

I was not sure about the “fat” as it easy to overlook fat in oneself. However, it was a valuable lesson in reminding me that it takes two to make a successful marriage, Neither person can make a relationship work by their efforts alone. This also led to a renewal of a basic understanding of life and partnerships as the same concept when working with staff and colleagues as well – it takes “two to tango” (dance, not software). Dave helped me really deepen my understanding of this simple concept although with a surprising approach.

Dave the Perserverer

1-Dave and Alice were out on their own after being active in education for many years. They had moved to their Del Mar home by then and Dave had constructed an office area in the garage. He decided he could be more productive with his writing if he had his own computer. Home computers were a rarity at the time but Dave looked around [Editor: No, Les, I (Mark) was the recommender] and acquired a Radio Shack TRS80 computer (or some thing like that). He read the manuals and went to classes to learn to make it work. This included word processing. Word processors at the time were really difficult to use but, he persevered and “won out” over the machine and software. He later moved on to better computers and software, with Mark’s help, and they remained a primary tool the rest of his life.

2-The time came when Please Understand Me (later know by insiders as PUM1) written by Dave and Marilyn Bates as co-author was ready for the market but no publisher was interested. This problem was solved when Dave and Alice started their own publishing company and went off shore for the printing. A neat solution for a sticky problem. It was years before the self publishing became more common but the original decision to self publish yielded a better return on the time invested in the writing. All of the children became involved somewhere along the line becoming a family business. Dave and Alice persevered again.

3-The success of printing PUM1 off shore led to another problem to be solved when a shipment of books was held in custody by Customs officials. They were being held because, in their rules, it was illegal to import these printed works even if you were the author. Dave went to the law library and read up on such matters and found that works of art did not apply to the rules being quoted by the Custom officials. It was determined that since there had been a play written around some of PUM1 content that it could be classified as “art” or an art derivative. Thus he was eventually able to get the shipment released from Customs. Another victory for Dave and Alice as they successfully persevered yet another time. [Editor: however, a later shipment, Customs, “lost” – yes, the bureaucracy still got its pint of blood]

4-Dave was completing his PhD. work at Claremont Graduate School. He found a lot of resistance from some of his profs. and advisors regarding his dissertation topic [Editor: The Polarization of Intelligence]. These people placed all kinds of obstacles and roadblocks in completing his work. He was delayed for a significant period of time. [Editor: moreover, he helped raise a family and worked full time]. Dave finally completed his work and earned his PhD. through perseverance and a lot of hard work. However, earning a PhD. did not alter things at home, Alice still required Dave to take out the trash.

Dave the Do Not Let Your Employer Scar Your Life

Dave was the direct supervisor of Psychological Services in Covina. Something happened that I was never privy to and all of the sudden Dave was assigned to school duty, rather than the head of Psychological Services. I actively campaigned “the powers” to have Dave assigned to me and school and that came to be.  It was great for me and our staff/students but, I thought it must be a let down for Dave. I asked him about it one day and Dave replied “Shuck, this is great, I now get to practice first hand what I have designed and preached for some time. This is my laboratory, students, teachers and parents what more could I ask for?”

Others would have seen this as a demotion or a career damaging assignment but, not Dave, he made it an opportunity.

Dave the Husband and Parent

As alluded to. I spent a lot of time thru the years with Dave and quite a bit of time with Dave and Alice during visits, dinners and the like. I was pleased with their interactions and amazed at how well Alice dealt with daily life showing her continuing optimism. I am sure Dave must have gotten a little “down” from time to time but, I am equally sure “Alice the Optimist” [Editor: I will second and third … that view of my mother] settled things down during these times.

Although I did not personally observe much of Dave’s interactions with his children, I know he loved them and genuinely so. When we met together as a foursome and had a “count down” about our children both he and Alice would cite Mark, Jan & Tammy accomplishments, as well as what they were up to. Dave and Alice were and were pleased to see all three grow up, mature and become responsible adults. This extended to current spouses and grandchildren.

Dave spoke fondly of Alice through all of our times together, always appreciating what Alice brought to their marriage. Although he made some kidding remarks, I do not recall any complaints or disrespectful comments toward or about Alice and this is remarkable. Same is true for his children and grandchildren.

Dave was respectful of his children although that does not mean he was not concerned from time to time. While in discussion about dealing with our children and their plans that we had to say “no” to. Dave related a comment he told me he made to one of the girls when she wanted to do something beyond his pail. In a specific incident when one of the girls wanted to do something that did not meet with Dave’s approval. His response (maybe standard response under these conditions) was something like, “When you are 18 and on your own you can make that decision but as long as you are under that age and living here you may not do that.”

Dave the Minister

One of Dave and Alice’s daughters was happily married in everyone’s eyes but the law.

The time came when Dave and Alice became uncomfortable with this situation but, it was not easily handled in the normal way due to the circumstances. Dave solved the problem by getting a mail order certification which he interpreted as giving him the authority to perform marriages. He conducted the ceremony and it made everything legal at least in his and Alice’s eyes.

As far as I know, he performed no other marriages as that one was all he had in mind.

Dave the Wordsmith

Dave was not just fond of words, he LOVED words and their usage. [Editor: my emphasis] Some problems came along with this interest as he continually had to fiddle with them to get them just right and that took time which delayed the completion of his works. However, in true INTP fashion he just had to do it this way down to the last minute in his search for the perfect word, sentence, paragraph etc.

There was one memorable incident that sometimes happens with these last minute “improvements”. At the last minute before a book went to the printers, he was still fiddling and made a change intended to limit the change to only a specific set of circumstances. However, instead the change was made through the entire manuscript causing some accuracies to become inaccurate and/or non-sensible. [Editor: boy! did I regret teaching him the “find and replace all” command]

The book was printed and only after receiving the completed shipment did he notice the errors caused by those “changes”. Dave and Alice had to recall and destroy all the books they could locate.

I have a signed copy of this edition and it only adds to my many fond memories of Dave.

Dave the Tennis Player

Everyone who knew Dave beyond a casual conversation, also knew how much he liked to play tennis.

Dave developed an eye problem that caused split vision for awhile as healing took place from surgery. He got to the point of getting back to the game. He said it was difficult because two tennis balls would be coming his way, but all of the sudden, he looked down and saw that he had two tennis rackets so he was back into the game.

I never did hear how well he played but the observation and ingenuity he had to look at the situation this way became a memorable event illustrating his ability to look at things differently than most.

Dave and the Lateral Arabesque

I had the R&D responsibilities in Newport-Mesa which had as a primary purpose the development of solutions to problems the district was facing. A major priority early on was re-inventing Psychological and Counseling Services. I was able to convince Dave that Covina did not appreciate him enough and that I and Newport-Mesa needed him to head this effort. The end result was was to be within two years, develop a solution, install it, acquire needed staff and train staff members to function properly. The last step was to package it in such a way so that continued oversight, management and operations could be handed off to someone else after two years were up. It was a blow-up assignment, two years to complete the assignment and then Dave would move onto his next professional venture. (Which turned out to be at Cal State Fullerton)

Dave would be working with existing staff while supplementing the cadre with new recruits. The plan progressed and It was not too long before Dave was able to verify that some existing staff members did not fit the new Psych/Counseling approach. In those days it sometimes happened that a high school counselor was someone who was not doing well with students but due to tenure laws etc. dismissal was not an easy option. So the counselor position became a kind of catchall for some members doing much more paper work than counseling as they did not know how to counsel and were either unwilling or unable to be effective in counseling students and parents.

Thus, Dave introduced me to the term of “lateral arabesque”. It was a new term to me so Dave explained this way. It was related to architecture and dance but as he was using it, it was a graceful spiral movement of a classical ballet dancer. The word lateral meant moving to one side while in the spiral motion. In this case it meant “out of the way” and not part of an integrated performance as it is in dance. So, in a management sense, the obstacle was removed from the path and set aside somewhere in order to continue plan progress.

This meant, retrospectively, some counselors were the recipients of administrative lateral arabesques to start with so it would only be one more move. Thus a new name for and old method of transferring assignments.

This was used to the degree that we could figure out where the new place might be for existing staff member and then they were replaced by high quality performers or those having good promise of becoming high performers.

What sticks with me is the term “Lateral Arabesque” It always raises a quizzical eye when discussing this maneuver with a client.

Alice and Her Time Out – Dave’s point of View 

Alice decided to take at least a year off when Dave accepted the project offer from Newport-Mesa. They bought a home in Turtle Rock, Orange County, CA near UCI, and Alice stopped teaching.

This was not an easy transition for Alice after getting the Turtle Rock place organized and in shape. She was able to do the things she had waiting in line for years when she had time. Alice did these things but fairly soon she was through with each one and found that there was not enough to do to keep fully satisfied with her life.

Knowing this, I joined them one evening for dinner and both met me at the door. I asked Alice how she was doing and Dave said, “I would like to answer that first”. It is a day to day thing for Alice and today was a good day for Alice”. Dave told about his homecoming that night, as he went into the house, “I saw Alice and she did not kick the cat across the room, only nudged it a bit and a little later when she went into the kitchen there was banging and slamming but, I heard no broken glass, no cabinet doors fell off and nothing smelled like it was burning”. He went on with things like that a few minutes before Alice broke in and said, “I am going back to teaching as soon as I can, let us sit down and visit”.

Alice did return to teaching as soon as she found the position she was looking for.

So, you can see how well matched they were.

[Editor: My father, an Architect Rational, and my mother, a Teacher Idealist were married for 68 years]  They were lucky, as we kids were.

6 thoughts on “Dave Keirsey: Les Shuck remembers”

  1. Thank you for your tribute. I remember David and Alice from the 60’s and had not thought of my personal encounters until I read this material. What pioneers they both were. What a priviledge to have had his class and meet his wife. I hope all his work survives. I will be holding a tribute to him at my mt sac class Tuesday night. Joanna Jones

  2. Dear Editor: Speaking of Cesar Millan (mentioned in Editor’s Note on Les Shuck Remembers, I am an avid fan of Cesar’s and have tried to figure out his temperament. At first I thought Supervisor Guardian, then Teacher Idealist, and sometimes Artisan Promoter. I’m stymied. Thanks!

    1. My guess (I actually have thought about him for awhile) is Inventor Rational. The man is brilliant, irrespective.

      1. Wow! I thought Fieldmarshal Rational, possibly, but never Inventor. That’s cool! I think he’s amazing. I met him at a book signing in New York (on Long Island) and then again at a ‘meet & greet’ after a performance on Long Island. He is amazing. I never get tired of watching him. Thanks so much for your reply, David.

      2. Note to David: Did you read (or listen to audio) Cesar’s autobiography Cesar’s Way? It’s great! He reads the audio version himself. I loved it and read and listened twice. I don’t know if you still keep the list of audio bios.

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