By ADAM BERNSTEIN
Washington Post Staff Writer
Hans G. Furth, 78, an author specializing
in developmental psychology and a Catholic University Psychology
Department professor since 1960, died Nov. 7 at Shenandoah Memorial
Hospital after a heart attack. He lived in Takoma Park.
Dr. Furth, a professor emeritus at the
time of his death, had written 10 published books since 1966.
The earliest was "Thinking Without Language: Psychological Implications
of Deafness," an examination of how the deaf communicate without
spoken language and a critique of how the deaf are taught.
He told The Washington Post in 1966 that
the deaf should be instructed from birth in sign language and
that any objection to that smacked of prejudice of the perceived
handicap." If language is necessary for intelligence, then the
deaf would all be idiots," he said.
Dr. Furth also wrote books incorporating
the thinking of Swiss child-development psychologist Jean Piaget,
with whom he worked while on sabbatical at the University of Geneva
in the mid-1960s.
One title was "Piaget and Knowledge:
Theoretical Foundations," which became a bestseller published
by Prentice-Hall in 1969. The book made accessible Piaget's largely
abstract ideas, including the notion that children left to their
own devices continually rethink their understanding if the world
and are not empty vessels waiting for educators to fill them with
A former student and longtime colleague
of Dr. Furth's, Catholic University psychology professor James
Youniss, said Dr. Furth's "intensity" inspired leading developmental
psychologistis to embark on their careers.
But at times, Youniss said, that intensity
gave Dr. Furth a reputation for abrasiveness, until recent years.
"He used to go through three secretaries
a year, and in the last couple of years, the secretaries really
loved him," Youniss said. "He became much warmer and more open
retiring from full-time teaching in 1990, Dr. Furth focused on
writing about his past. Dr. Furth's son Daniel said his father
recently completed a manuscript titled "Society Faces Extinction:
The Psychology of Auschwitz and Hiroshima," which explores the
idea that the capacity to commit genocide is conceivable in many
Dr. Furth, who was born to Jewish parents
in Vienna, was baptized into the Catholic Church by age 15 and
fled to England as the Nazis advanced.
He graduated from the Royal Academy of
Music in London in 1940, briefly contemplating a career as a concert
Instead, he spent the next decade as
a monk in the Carthusian order and then moved to North America
to study psychology.
He received a master's degree in clinical
Psychology froom the University of Ottawa in 1954 and a docorate
degree in experimental psychology from Portland State University
He told The Post in 1961 that although
his profesional music prospects faded, he was not discouraged
from playing informally before local audiences.
In the last decade, Dr. Furth performed
frequently at area nursing homes, rendering concertos of Beethoven,
Bach, and Mozart.
Dr. Furth, an avid hiker and cyclist,
was a member of the Wanderbirds Hiking Club. He was hiking in
Shenandoah National Park when he had the heart attack.
Dr. Furth also was a member of the Nuclear
Free takoma Park Committee, and he belonged to the Catholic Interracial
Council in the 1960s.
His marriage to Madeleine Furth ended
Survivors include four sons, Daniel Furth
of Sunderland, Peter Furth of Milton, Mass., Paul Furth of Las
Cruces, N.M., and David Walker of Marietta, Ohio; three daughters,
Cathy Noel of Washington, Sonia Tramel of Long Beach Calif., and
Julie Furth of San Diego; a brother, and 20 grandchildren.