What’s It All About, Alfie? Taking Charge (2nd edition)

The idea for Taking Charge: Your Education, Your Career, Your Life can be traced back to an experience I had toward the end of my previous incarnation as a college English teacher. Back then, I was required to have my students submit their papers to Turnitin.com, the anti-plagiarism website. In one class, I was surprised when one of my students turned in a twenty-four page paper when the required minimum length was only five pages. Surprise, however, turned into dismay when the Turnitin.com report showed that 95% of the paper had been plagiarized from no less than fourteen different websites. When I met with the student to explain this was not acceptable—after all, plagiarism is presenting someone else’s words and/or ideas as your own—without batting an eye she replied, “Well, I never said that I wrote the whole paper.”

To paraphrase the immortal Patsy Cline, she was wrong, so wrong. But after such a response, you’re left as a teacher with big questions like “What to do?” and “Where to start?” to answer.

These types of questions are part of the ongoing discussions taking place in the field of higher education trying to determine exactly what is—or, more importantly, what should be—the most important knowledge we impart to our students. Is it technical skills alone? Interpersonal skills? Critical thinking and problem-solving skills? Effective communication abilities? Or is it something else entirely different . . . something as abstract as “life skills”?

The answer is, of course, a combination of all these things. Without the technical skills you’ll have upon graduation, you won’t be qualified to get your foot in the door of that career you want. But you won’t have that job for long if you don’t have the skills beyond technical knowledge alone: showing up on time every day ready to go to work using well-developed critical-thinking and communication skills in tandem with a variety of different people including co-workers, supervisors, vendors, and customers. And this, of course, is in addition to the long-standing view of education as the means to become both a better person (and citizen) through developing those more abstract skills that help you lead an examined and engaged life.

Unfortunately, the rub here, given the ever-increasing cost of education, is divining the most efficient way of teaching these skills as well as making them as relevant as possible to today’s student population. Over the last 30 years as the cost of education has skyrocketed, a degree that once upon a time might have been nice to have—English, for example, or history—without the promise of lucrative monetary rewards could still be had without incurring tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. Now, however, many students seeking even a two-year degree to get a job to support themselves and their families can also look forward—albeit grimly—to $20,000 or more in student loan debt to service as well.

Given all this, today’s students want—and demand—that they get the biggest bang for their buck when taking any class and investing in its textbook. They want skills that work in the classroom and on the college campus but they also want skills that will directly impact their success after college. Historically, college success/orientation textbooks have focused on traditional study skills: note taking, test-taking strategies, using the college library, and so on. And there is nothing wrong with developing any of these skills. But, with the evolution of student demands, we’ve designed Taking Charge to meet these needs: skills for right here and right now, on the job after graduation, and for the rest of your life.

Students will find that each chapter is divided into three sections: the personal, educational, and professional applications of the subject at hand. In addition, there is a profile at the beginning of each chapter of a student, graduate, or faculty/staff member relating to that chapter. After all, none of the subjects in Taking Charge exist in a vacuum; instead, they are used by real people with real jobs, many of whom are tasked with helping out with your education and who, in the past, found themselves exactly where you are today: in college and looking ahead to the future. At the end of each chapter are suggested additional resources—both online and hard copy—to allow those who wish to dig even more in depth on a particular subject. Finally, every chapter offers a variety of writing prompts and exercises to have students learn by doing, not just by reading the book or listening to an instructor. After all, as I used to tell my students in my writing classes, it would be much easier and quicker if they could become better writers just by listening to me talk or even just reading about writing. As it happens, however, writing (like most things), is best learned by doing what you want to learn how to do, not by just thinking about it or passively listening to someone else drone on about it.

Instructors using Taking Charge will find many additional resources at its companion website at tstcpubtakingcharge.wordpress.com: lesson plans, detailed chapter outlines, three PowerPoint presentations for each chapter, additional suggested online and print resources, and additional writing and discussion prompts. Also, since the first edition came out, we have worked to include materials developed by instructors teaching out of that earlier version of the book. Teaching is organic, not prescriptive, so we’re always looking for more resources to add to the Taking Charge website. Given that, if you as an instructor develop materials that you’d like to share with other teachers, please drop us a line at tstc.publishing@gmail.com so we can add what you’ve come up with.

As for what happened to my diligently plagiarizing student, I have to admit I don’t know. In the years since that class, I’ve periodically wondered how she’s fared. What did she take away from her college education? What worked for her? What didn’t? I’d like to think that when it comes to plagiarism that she—as I’m sure I told her at the time—learned a valuable lesson relatively cheaply since I probably just gave her a zero for that assignment as opposed to failing her for the course. It’s impossible, though, to say for sure.

But, just as I always asked my students to write papers they would be interested in reading, here at TSTC Publishing we’ve always tried to publish books that both students and instructors would find useful. I’d like to think that if she’d had this book when starting college then maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have found herself in that predicament in my class. Or, at the very least, perhaps some student using Taking Charge will be spared that experience that she earned for herself.

Finally, on behalf of all of us at TSTC Publishing, I must thank Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, who expanded upon the excellent work done by Karen Mitchell Smith, author of the first edition, to produce this newly expanded second edition. In addition, we’d like to thank Rachel McGinness, who wrote many of the profiles included at the beginning of each chapter, and Shayla Crane, who wrote several of the profiles as well as doing much of the initial (and valuable) research used by Katharine to update Taking Charge.

Mark Long


TSTC Publishing