Campus professor of education John Hurst dies at 86

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UC Berkeley professor of education John Hurst, a proponent of popular education, died March 22. He was 86.

Joining the faculty of the campus’s Graduate School of Education in 1961, Hurst saw education as a means of furthering democratic values and practices. His work aimed to promote social change by empowering people through education.

“John stuck to his values even though his radically democratic approach to education was sometimes not appreciated by colleagues and the administration,” said David Stern, campus professor emeritus of education.

When not teaching or researching, Hurst pursued his passion for the great outdoors. He is credited as one of the founders of the Outward Bound movement in the United States, which advocates an approach to learning and personal growth rooted in outdoor expeditions.

“He (spent) as much time as possible outside … (and) taught Outward Bound in Tanzania and Zambia during sabbaticals from UC Berkeley,” said his daughter, Jill Hurst. “(He also) rowed dories down the Colorado river several summers for the famous Colorado river guide Martin Litton.”

Combining his love for education and nature, John Hurst co-founded the conservation and resource studies department and developed the environmental education program within the department.

Hurst also co-founded two additional programs on campus: the peace and conflicts studies program in 1984 and the undergraduate minor program in the School of Education in 1990, which won the Educational Initiatives Award in 1997. Hurst served as chair for both programs.

Hurst’s passion for education inspired students to think critically about the field of education and the issues that impact it. In some cases, he influenced their decision to enter the field.

“He was a very amazing, humble person,” said Liliana Aguas, Hurst’s former student. “(He) opened (the) door to his home to students … (and) allowed students to have self-determination … (to) not let a grade be a motivation for their learning, but (to be motivated on) their own.”

Outside the classroom, Hurst encouraged students to learn about the field of education through community service projects. He served as the faculty sponsor for a campus DeCal that allowed students to mentor middle school students in Berkeley and Oakland.

A memorial for Hurst is planned for May or June, depending on campus space availability, according to Hurst’s daughter. In lieu of flowers, the Hurst family asks that contributions be made to one of his favorite organizations, the Highlander Research and Education Center.

“I hope he’s remembered at Cal for his love of teaching and for helping students learn to take control of their education and world,” Jill Hurst said. “He wanted very much to expand (students’) understanding of justice and to feel there was something they could and should do to make the world a better place.”

Contact Jennifer Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jenniferwong_dc.