homeAboutJPSAboutPiagetNewsStudentsmembershippublicationsconferencecontactlinkssearch

 

Hans Furth, 78; Author and Catholic University Psychology Professor

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 knowledge.
     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 about himself."

    After 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 cultures.
     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 pianist.
     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 in 1960.
     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 in divorce.
     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.