Hybrid.  It is quite a popular word. Hybrid vehicles. Hybrid cuisine. Hybrid golf clubs. “Hybrid” has come to connote a combination of heterogeneous elements that is better than its individual parts. That is to say, the word used to have that connotation. Now that every US school and university has a different, hybrid reopening plan, I’m not so sure.

Hybrid educational schemes are combinations of onsite and online learning. Although they come in many forms, all are (supposedly) designed to reduce large student gatherings and the resultant increased risk of coronavirus transmission. Some hybrid plans are temporal in nature, with classes in-school until Thanksgiving, before transitioning online thereafter. Others are school-population-driven, with freshman and seniors only on campus; sophomores and juniors must conduct their studies online.

Then, we have what I might call the Cruzeiro do Sul style, hybrid plan.

Cruzeiro do Sul was one of the many forgotten airlines that I had the opportunity of patronizing during my international business career. Like Faucett, TAN, SAHSA (“Stay At Home, Stay Alive“), Aeronica, Mexicana de Aviación, LAPSA and others, it mostly succeeded in transporting passengers between two points. During the late 1980s, Cruzeiro do Sul did so with a hybrid, no-smoking plan. Smoking bans were in their nascent phase at the time and airlines worldwide had introduced policies to restrict smoking to designated areas only. For most US airlines, such a policy meant that smokers were segregated in the rear section of the plane. Perhaps in the last ten to fifteen rows. On Cruzeiro do Sul the system was much more egalitarian. Smokers sat on the left side of the plane, non-smokers on the right.  The letter of the law was met, not the spirit.

I tell this story because it reminds me of a hybrid reopening plan recently floated by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. UMASS Amherst proposed to bring its 30,000 students to campus this Fall, only to have them stay in their dorms and attend classes online.  All the risks of large gatherings, without the benefits of classroom instruction. Thankfully, the university later shelved this proposal.

I am not writing this as a criticism of our educators; I have no miracle plan for teaching during these pandemic times.  I can, however, offer my readers an alternative, hybrid viewpoint.  When you see this word do not assume it means an improvement.  There are hybrid vehicles whose operating efficiencies do not come close to justifying their price premiums.  I’ve been served nearly inedible meals at fusion/hybrid restaurants.  And, let’s not forget that the mule is a combination whose value is still being debated.

Yes, many a hybrid goes up in a cloud of smoke.  Like flying on Cruzeiro do Sul airlines.