Itzamna said I didn't have to do my homework
January 6, 2012 5:47 AM   Subscribe

A colleague's girlfriend, who teaches in an 11-18 school, recently had one of her pupils stop doing work because of an (apparently) strongly-held belief that the world is coming to an end in 2012 with the finish of the Mayan calendar. I've seen a couple of anecdotal tweets about this occurring elsewhere too. I guess Rapture fever might be a more common occurrence in parts of the US, but this was in leafy west London. So, teachers of the green, is this a Thing?
posted by cromagnon to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds more like two things:

1- People tweeting it "ironically" because they enjoy being a part of something unusual.

2- In this case, it is a kid looking for an excuse not to do homework.

I doubt there is anyone who actually believes the world is coming to an end, who hasn't also fallen for every other Nostradamus style prediction since they learned how to listen to the radio.
posted by gjc at 6:09 AM on January 6, 2012

I'm not a teacher, nor is my wife, but she does work with children as a mental health therapist. She says that easily over half the children she has exposure to display some degree of this (in the US).

One of her more common tools for therapy is for children to draw while talking, and after the brilliant bit of cinema known as 2012 came out (and moron parents took their emotionally troubled and/or abused children to watch it) she could have story-boarded the movie with the drawings she got during therapy sessions.

Keep in mind that my wife does work with emotionally troubled kids, so her exposure to this is probably WAY higher than the norm. But yeah, I would say this is at least on some level, a Thing.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:11 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the other side of the coin, I also work with troubled kids, and I have not had a single incidence of a student using the 2012 excuse for not being productive.
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it is an excuse. Just as one example, I remember an occasion when I didn't hand in homework to a particular teacher because it was assigned during the last class I would ever have with him before changing teachers. I remember visualizing handing in my book, then not being able to get it back because I wasn't in that teacher's class any more, and then getting in big trouble for not having my book. Why did you give this book to a teacher you wouldn't be taught by again, you idiot, when are you stupid children going to learn to plan ahead. So I decided not to hand in that last homework assignment, and then a few weeks later got buttonholed in the hallway and publicly yelled at for thinking I could "get out of" doing the homework.

I mean, yeah, maybe the kid is lazy. But I also remember growing up during the nuclear age and getting a steady diet of "When The Bough Breaks" and various apocaliterature and doomsday stories. I even remember a teacher standing up in assembly and scolding all the students for being complacent about the impending nuclear holocaust, just running around enjoying ourselves like a bunch of stupid, carefree children; it was made entirely clear to us that we had a moral duty to be far more terrified than we were. Then I read in the newspaper that Nostradamus had predicted the end of the world in 1986. I remember living my life in a state of bated breath, fearfully and fully expecting a ghastly death for the many, followed by an endless wander through a desolate, toxic wasteland for the few. I remember having a dream about stumbling through a field with the surviving members of my family, in search of food, and being ecstatic to find a few scraps of rotting lettuce leaves and garbage. Seriously, that's what I thought was, if not inevitable, then very highly likely to happen.

I mean, obviously I didn't stop doing my homework because I didn't know for a fact that my school would be nuked into nonexistence by the time exams rolled around. But I do remember recognizing similarly tearful and terrified reasoning in other kids. I remember reading a letter to a teenage advice column about a child who was taking a lot of O levels and who was preparing to leave school at 16 and face a world of 100% unemployment: "A lot of people say I should stay on and do a few A-levels, but I really don't see the point." I believe she honestly didn't. I think she had been successfully convinced that there was literally no possibility that she would ever find gainful employment no matter what she did and that any further study, beyond what she was already committed to, genuinely would be a wasted effort.

Of course, maybe this really is just a lazy kid trying it on. That's left as an exercise for the reader. But I often think that adults go to a lot of trouble to instill terror and despair in children without understanding how well they've succeeded.
posted by tel3path at 6:36 AM on January 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

[Please note that the OP is not asking for how to deal with students not handing in homework because of 2012, but if teachers were finding this belief among their students.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:50 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kids, even bright kids and older kids, can get sucked into weird hypey illogical beliefs for a while. When I was in middle school, I watched a lot of TV about UFOs and crop circles, and I was terrified (and also secretly hoping) that I'd get abducted by aliens on the way to the bus stop. I grew out of it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:57 AM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Polled a couple of teacher-friends who teach those ages, consensus is that teens are aware of this but do not actually believe it. A few have experienced teens refusing to do work and blaming it on this (and some of the other apocalypse hoaxes over the years), and they laid down the law in the classroom: You're still a minor student in my classroom and if you make a choice not to do your homework for any reason, "religious" or otherwise, you are making a choice to fail my class. If you believe this to be unfair, please have your parents, who are adults, contact the school administration on your behalf.
posted by juniperesque at 7:23 AM on January 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I know it's A Thing in my 12-year-old neice's class. Apparently some of the kids are completely convinced it's real. That or they're just acting that way to get a rise out of their fellow students.
posted by zsazsa at 7:38 AM on January 6, 2012

I can tell you its A Thing among the astrology circuit - perhaps the young person reads their scopes or has family who does (as I do, a practitioner for a sibling)
posted by infini at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2012

you might point out that last years calendar said, as all the ones preceding it have, that the world ended on December 31st. The Mayan calendar is just shy of 400 years, rather than 365 days long is all...
posted by Redhush at 9:12 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

2- In this case, it is a kid looking for an excuse not to do homework.

Kids, even bright kids and older kids, can get sucked into weird hypey illogical beliefs for a while.

There's another possibility: The kid's parents are morons. I've met more than a few adults who believe every dumb urban legend or fake prophesy that came down the pike, and I'm sad to say that those people have the same breeding rights as the rest of us.

So to answer the question that was asked: Yes, this is a thing. A thing 99.9% of people who mention it are joking about. But there's always the other ones.

And to answer the question that wasn't asked: OP's colleague's gf should try to find the root of the kid's belief. It may be laziness; it may be horrible parents.
posted by coolguymichael at 9:34 AM on January 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was pretty scared the world would end when it turned midnight on NYE 1999. I would have been 15 then, in an urban UK 11-18 school, and I was generally a skeptic/atheist/smart kid. I managed to rationalise myself out of it by reasoning that there were lots of different midnights and not one definitive midnight, and by watching the world around me and seeing that no one else really seemed to believe that and that the world was making plans to carry on beyond that date, and that worked, though I was still pretty antsy leading up to the date.

So yeah, I can believe that it is a Thing.
posted by corvine at 9:47 AM on January 6, 2012

I have completely given up trying to convince adults who believe in the 2012 disaster. (Not ironically or jokily - they really firmly believe we only have a few months left.)

If it's such a strongly-held belief among adults, I'm sure that kids are even more susceptible to it. Particularly the kids of said adults.
posted by ErikaB at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I teach high school (in a fairly well-off town, most kids are the children of professionals, lawyers, doctors, etc., not generally people with "out there" beliefs, but rather mostly fairly conservative for this part of the country), and there is *definitely* a THING about 2012. Not every child has an issue with it, and even the ones who bring it up may only partially believe it, but in 10 years of teaching, I've never heard anything else like it. I do think there are some who genuinely fear the world will end, even if they're not *convinced*.

I also would not put up with that as an excuse not to do homework, but are some of the kids honestly scared? Yes.
posted by lysimache at 4:05 PM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

My kids know all about the 2012 theory of the end of the world and talked about it a lot a few years ago- there hasn't been much talk recently about it but here in Boston it was definitely part of the urban mythology-especially at their school where they study the Mayans.

Anecdotally, when I was young nuclear war was a big topic of conversation- many tv shows, news and magazine articles and even a tv special movie called "The Day After" . It was a common topic on the playground.. I was convinced nuclear war was going to happen and I wouldn't grow up. I think that a lot of kids get worked up by things like this-especially in adolescents when all the changes both internally and externally make the future seem unimaginable.
posted by momochan at 6:12 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

The world ending in 2012 is a thing amongst my 15 yr old and my 12 yr old's friends. We've had several conversations about this, we noogled around and gave their teacher's these links:

Here's a nice chart point by point of believers vs sceptics:

Here's Neil Degrasse Tyson on the topic:
posted by at at 9:57 AM on January 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

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