Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Kenneth Tobin

Committee Members

Gene Fellner

Federica Raia

Mark Zuss

Subject Categories

Education | Vocational Education


apprenticeship, cheese, education, learning and teaching, professional education, self-education


The most common approach to educating the populace places learners in contrived, curriculum-centered learning environments that are characterized by uniformity, standardization, and incessant high-stakes testing. The primacy of efficiency, an externally imposed and shifting set of non-negotiables, and top-down management dominate schooling. This set of circumstances tends to marginalize learners whose particular attributes, needs, wants and goals locate them far from what can be considered representative of the average student. In other words, efficiency trumps difference and leaves many learners in need of alternative paths to happiness and fulfillment (Callahan, 1962).

This system works for some, but for many it simply does not. Traditional schooling prepares students for a generic future of career choices for which all are somewhat prepared and few or none are truly equipped. There are many good reasons for such a system, but many more reasons for the availability of supplementary and complementary models that recognize difference and diversity as strength rather than deficit, providing opportunities for those among us for whom traditional schooling is not adequate.

The research documented here explores a single person’s efforts to pursue life as a cheese professional – cheesemaker, affineur, cheesemonger, chef and cheese consumer. Her professional education program has been and continues to be firmly rooted in the places where cheese is made, sold and consumed. This is an ad hoc, on-the-job, enterprise where resources (including people, facilities, organizations and events) arise and are appropriated when and as needed. It is not preplanned, but it is responsive to a fluid set of goals that comprise a more broadly encompassing aspiration of central participation in a collection of interweaving and overlapping communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), all in the world of cheese. There is a place for the classroom in her education, but only as one among many and varied avenues into and throughout Cheeseworld.

This phenomenological, hermeneutic investigation of the self-structured professional education program of a cheese professional employs a bricolage of methods that are employed and deployed when and as needed in an emergent and contingent process of decision-making that is acutely responsive to the knowledge generated during the research itself. The entire enterprise is authentic inquiry, and includes an embracing of polysemy, polyphony and multilogicality (Alexakos, 2015).

Many aspects of cheesemaking – from farm, to creamery, to the caves where affinage is practiced, to shipping and storage facilities, homes, kitchens and dinner plates – are mediated by natural phenomena that often are assigned to the domain of “science.” Beyond this, as cheese making, processing and consumption involve craft, skill and expertise, they are subject to the hegemonic positivism that Western science practices exert over engagement in knowledge production – even knowledge production outside of what we consider its purview (Kincheloe & Tobin, 2009). Our efforts in the current work seek to instigate a broadening of the epistemological frame to embrace the interconnectedness and inseparability of the human, social and natural characters of our universe and to make this visible in the totality of human activity.

Ultimately, the current research serves as an example of a unique journey into a professional career that, we hope, at times, resonates with and, at times, challenges the experience of each reader. Although unique and singular, we place this story – both the narrative and the interpretation – in the public space to enlighten and inform all interested parties – learners, educators, policy makers and professionals of all stripes – as they make the important decisions about their own learning and the educating of others.