Data is accumulating at an exponential rate, but it needs a teacher’s help to become useful knowledge for students.

The comparison of facts to oil is compelling. Oil is inert and stored in the earth’s crust until it is mined and refined into a usable energy source. Facts are inert and need mining and refining to become useful knowledge.

The problem is this. We are focusing our entire educational budget of over $620b ($12,000+ for each student) exclusively on transmitting facts. We do not seem to be spending anything on teaching the skills necessary to mine and refine those facts.

Until our educational policy-makers acknowledge that data is our latest natural resource – but useless until mined and refined – we will continue to fight the last war.

Of course it’s the electronic-digital age that is responsible for this explosion of data. What was not born digital is being digitized – one of Google’s missions – and data that is born digital stays that way. Both are waiting to be made useful.

Data is just that – data. It has no intrinsic meaning or usefulness. Like buried coal or oil it is inert; it is static and useless to us. It does however have enormous potential. It has incalculable possibilities. These possibilities are only actualized when conditions become favorable for the potential to become realized, valuable and useful.

So one way of describing the role of the Teacher should be “Trainer of Prospectors.” Showing students how to use all the tools at their disposal – facts and thinking skills and curiosity – to locate, mine and refine data until it becomes useful, distributed knowledge.

After all those are exactly the skills businesses and employers of all kinds need.  They need people who can mine established facts, analyze those facts, synthesize those facts with new knowledge, and propose novel solutions.

Teachers are not to blame for being asked to teach and test students only the retention of facts. It’s the law and adding or subtracting to the curriculum means breaking the law, and there are consequences. Finland does the exact opposite and gets much better results.


There is one thing teachers can do. BEFORE telling students to open their “textbooks,” organize them into self-directed teams and ask them to analyze through questioning why what they are doing is valuable to them.

If you teach algebra or history, ask your students to decide for themselves why algebra or history is important; that way they buy-in to the need for them to learn algebra or history. The same goes for any subject.


Invest 7 minutes watching this narrated video of an actual session on the subject of “Why Thinking Is Important?”