The Definition of a CZBrat

With perilous pride the local youth born in the Panama Canal Zone have dubbed themselves "brats." The species, they say, has three varieties: Army, Canal Zone, and Navy. In the contemptuous sense they are, of course, no more brats than any other cross-section of young Americans.

Their alleged allergy to the assumption of responsibilities has a familiar ring that probably echoes as far back as humanity's first "older" generation. The gradual abandonment of rural life and the rapid advent of a push-button era combine to rob that charge, so frequently made by the aging, of its realism. In all the Canal Zone there is no such thing as a wood box to fill, coal or snow to shovel, or even a privately-owned lawn mower to push. The quality of soil and multiplicity of ravenous insects discourage private gardening. The absence of such chores, plus the presence of a maid in almost every household, leave few domestic routines to be assumed by young folk. Even spending money cannot be earned in an area which offers no private enterprise and a very few odd jobs. Doubtless the consistently high standard of family income often encourages a larger weekly allowance than is wise. If these combine to give young Zonians a false impression of life's rigid requirements, let it be remembered that they are but the victims of such circumstances. The absence of a Juvenile Court speaks volumes for the good to be found in Canal Zone homes, churches, schools, recreation programs and the "brats" themselves.

It would be difficult to find a community more conducive to good health. Medical care is excellent and within the reach of every family budget. Houses being built with screens instead of closable windows, one is literally never away from fresh air. Every day of the year playgrounds, swimming pools and beaches are crowded. There is organized recreation even during non-school months. The world offers no better fishing in ocean, lake or river than in Panama. For hiking there are endless trails. No snow? What need for it with slippery palm leaves for a sled?

The school system is accredited by the Middle States Association of Secondary Schools and colleges. In 1944, a survey conducted by that Association resulted in a rating of "superior" for the Canal Zone schools. There are few schools with better physical equipment. That is especially true in science laboratories and library facilities. For example, the Balboa High School alone has 11,000 volumes. A high staff rating requires that High School teachers have a Masters degree, while many of the Junior College faculty possess a Doctor of Philosophy degree. This college enjoys credit reciprocity with Stateside colleges. The two high schools are located in Balboa and Cristobal.

There is neither compulsory attendance in any Canal Zone school nor a truant officer, yet very few pupils "play hookey." The philosophy that schooling is not a requirement but a privilege seems to be practical--at least in the Canal Zone where there are no poor families needing financial aid from employed minors. Contrary to the pattern in most North American high schools, the senior enrollment frequently exceeds that of the Sophomore and Junior classes.

Another singular value is the cosmopolitan atmosphere in which young folk are steeped at the Crossroads of the World. Influences from afar plus the local blending of cultures and unusual opportunities combine to eliminate the deadening provincialisms that bedevil our "One World." All this and much more combine to make of local "brats" not only good Americans, but also good world citizens.

From: Christian Cooperation at the World's Crossroads by Robert H. Rolofson, 1950

August 17, 2000