We try and phone Daniel about once a month. The Doulos now has satellite technology, meaning we dial a number in the USA to speak to him, and the cost is minimal. He had a day off today, which he spent reading and hanging out with some friends. He had something of a cold so hadn't gone out in the evening with a crowd of others, and was enjoying the peace on the ship when hardly anyone was around. (They're five hours ahead of us currently, so early afternoon here is evening there).
Dan was recently appointed as the second 'waterman' on board, quite a responsible job. He didn't really want it, but (thankfully) is enjoying it very much. Because it's not quite full-time, he also has other jobs such as making keys and mending shoes, both of which he's also enjoyed learning. And he's picking up some knowledge about engines, and spending a bit of time in the engine-room.
In the course of the conversation, he was talking about the water tests that have to be done, explaining what they did, and how there was a problem with excess bacteria at this port. He sounded very knowledgeable.
One of the things that had slightly worried me about home educating the boys as teenagers was that I know almost nothing about science of any sort (despite getting grade A in O-level physics-and-chemistry). The correspondence course they did was heavily theoretical as far as science went, with no lab work at all - just a few demonstrations to watch on DVD.
We did have a rather nice 'chemistry set' when they were younger, full of white powders and instructions, but we never got very far with it. It all seemed rather pointless, and - as Dan pointed out - all we were doing was trusting what the book said. How did we KNOW that each powder was in fact what it claimed to be?
'So,' I said to Dan this afternoon. 'It hasn't been a huge disadvantage that you've never really done any chemistry, then?'
'Oh no,' he said, and I could almost hear the shrug. 'No problem at all. In fact, I knew more chemistry than one of my friends here who did chemistry GCSE at school.'
'Also, there's a guy here who's done an entire degree in chemistry, or biochemistry or something of the sort. He's a real expert, and working in the engine room. So if I do have any queries, I just go and ask him and he's always happy to explain.'
I'm glad we trusted our instincts. Someone educated at home picks up a huge amount of general knowledge, it seems. Particularly in conversations, and books, and on the Internet. They know that there's no limit to learning, and that lack of knowledge at any point is not a disadvantage. It's never too late to learn something new. Moreover, because there's no competition or one-upmanship, they don't mind asking other people who know more than they do.
Also, they seem to share their own knowledge with others, without being condescending about it. Later on in the conversation, Dan mentioned that he was chatting to a guitarist, who was worried that something he was playing was too high.
'So,' said Dan, 'Let's transpose it.'
'Huh?' said the guitarist. 'How do you do that? Isn't it really difficult?'
'Not really,' Dan assured him. Then spent a few minutes drawing out a chart to explain how to transpose on guitar. Dan isn't really a guitarist, although he plays a bit. His main instrument is clarinet, and his second one is drums. He's studied music theory and picked up a fair bit from general reading and discussion. Since he's never HAD to sit down and work (well, not since he was 11), he's always enjoyed learning.
He and the guitarist spent ten minutes transposing the music. Then the guitarist asked how a capo works, and Dan showed him, explaining the theory behind that. He said it was wonderful, he could almost see things clicking into place in the guy's head as he fit in this new (to him) information along with the guitar playing and techniques he knew already.
So Dan asked if we could find him an advanced music theory book, to take out when we hope to visit him later in the year. And perhaps one about jazz theory.
Then he started talking about all the things he still wants to learn. Maybe there is a problem with home education, after all - there's no motivation to specialise, because everything seems like fun. Dan was pondering whether he could do a course in marine engineering, to qualify him fully to work on a ship in future - either back on the Doulos in specialist role, or on an ordinary ship as a paid job. The Doulos always needs marine engineers, apparently.
But then he said that he's also realised he'd like to study drama more seriously. He's done up to Grade 8 in drama, and worked for a year in the local Antidote Theatre company. But he''d like to take a proper course about mime, for instance, and other aspects of drama.
Unfortunately, there don't seem to be any college courses that combine marine engineering with drama....
Then he said he thought it would also be wonderful to study music seriously for a few years. He was chatting to a student taking a music degree, who took a year out to work on the Doulos. Dan said he realised just how much he doesn't know, and how much more there is to learn.
But he doesn't think it would be right to be a perpetual student. So he's pondering what path to take in the future - whether to spend more time learning about engineering on board, or move (as he had planned originally) more towards the creative side. At present he's doing both, which of course is ideal, but he feels that he has so much more to learn in both, and isn't sure which would be of more use.
Apparently the phone call was 81 minutes.... a very long time for me, since I don't much like the phone. But it's so good to chat to Dan. I'm very glad we're in the 21st century with technology like satellite phones (and instant messaging on the computer) making it easy and inexpensive to communicate with our son as he travels around the Far East.