Brimming with knowledge

About Steve StockdaleFrom the July 18, 2003 print edition of the Dallas Business Journal.

Mike Whiteley Tarrant/Denton editor

When 16-year-old honors student Taylor Hess got expelled for carrying a bread knife onto the campus of L.D. Bell High School in the bed of his pickup, school officials drew more than the ire of stunned students and parents in Hurst-Euless-Bedford.

Cleared by the district after disclosure the knife had fallen from a box he was hauling to Goodwill Industries, Hess also became the latest poster boy for a 65-year-old, low-profile enclave for some of the world’s greatest scientists and wordsmiths.

Now the Institute of General Semantics is moving to Fort Worth.

DBJ articleSteve Stockdale, a former business operations manager for Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group, says the Hess case is a perfect example of what drove Polish-American author Alfred Korzybski to found the group in 1938.

“It brings to people’s attention what’s happening and how it’s being represented,” Stockdale said. “Are we responding to symbols more than to the specifics of what actually happened? Instead of dealing with an accident — a knife falling out of a moving box — it becomes an issue of the threatening of a school campus.”

Despite the district’s policy of zero tolerance, the district’s superintendent ruled that the 10-inch knife with a nonserrated edge posed no threat to the school. Hess’ expulsion was reduced to five days suspension.

Founded on the principal that the language of science is more precise — and less prone to misunderstanding and chaos — than everyday communication, the nonprofit has attracted as trustees, teachers and students the likes of Buckminster Fuller, a world-famous architect who conceived the geodesic dome; comedian and former talk show host Steve Allen; botanist David Fairchild, the son-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell; science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein; and Dave Garroway, an original host on NBC Today.

Stockdale established the institute’s archive — 2,000 books and 50 filing cabinets of correspondence, articles and administrative files — and a museum at a small center at 1412 Texas St. in Fort Worth two years ago.

It was the ambiance of Fort Worth — not the verbal showdown at Bell high school — that triggered a wholesale move of the institute’s Brooklyn, N.Y., headquarters in conjunction with a merger of the California-based International Society for General Semantics.

When the Brooklyn institute’s eight trustees converged on Cowtown for a quarterly meeting June 21, one compared Fort Worth to the Montreal of 30 years ago and began engineering a move.

Stockdale was promoted from part-time archivist and librarian to the institute’s full-time director and plans to launch a fund-raising drive in the next three months. He hopes to establish the institute in a 4,000-square-foot building sometime within the next six to eight months.

Stockdale is scouting the Metroplex with some emphasis on proximity to the Fort Worth Cultural District.

The institute also will relocate seminars now held in more expensive hotels in New York and New Jersey, Stockdale said.

Contact DBJ Tarrant/Denton editor Michael Whiteley at mwhiteley@bizjournals.com or (817) 693-0023.

© 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.