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This semester, I was forced to learn LaTeX for my Real Analysis class. The professor wanted all homework assignments to be typed in LaTeX in order to produce "high-quality" work. At first I was annoyed because I had no choice but to learn a new coding language in a short time frame.

However, I found that LaTeX was not all that difficult for me to learn. I have actually come to appreciate how intuitive the commands are. I would say it took me about 2 months to become comfortable with LaTeX (using it on and off). Before this semester I was not really into coding and I'm definitely not an expert at using LaTeX, but I at least know the basics pretty well. I still have to google what command to use every now and then. Lately I've been transferring all of my handwritten tutoring notes to LaTeX so that they are easier to read. Not to mention I can always go back and edit my notes whenever I want, which is not so easy to do when the notes are handwritten.

I've read this post that discusses how LaTeX is handled at the college level. I've been wondering if high school students should be taught LaTeX (particularly the students who want to have a career in any math-related field). It could be an important skill for them to have because from my understanding, most, if not all, mathematicians seem to know LaTeX as if it is a prerequisite for their field.

I suspect that learning LaTeX is not like learning a more, for lack of a better word, intensive programming language such as Java or Python (please convince me of otherwise if I'm being neglectful). Therefore I suspect that if LaTeX is currently taught in schools, it is not taught for a full semester. Again, I could be wrong.

It could be beneficial for students to learn LaTeX for when they have to write a math research paper or type up a homework assignment on proofs later on. My idea is that the earlier they are exposed to LaTeX, they can master it sooner rather than just knowing the basics.

Of course, there are downsides as well. I wonder if the students would find it worth their time to learn LaTeX. Some might find it boring because it's similar to Google Docs or Microsoft Word in terms of purpose. There are also tons of free resources online, so one could argue that it is better for the students to learn it on their own.

Overall, I'm curious if LaTeX is taught to high school students at all. If not, should they learn it?

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    $\begingroup$ With the google, learning LaTeX isn't bad anymore. In contrast, before search engines. And before detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html there was much suffering. I have no strong opinion on your question, if a student uses MSE then they'll learn a good amount of the basic typesetting (or face the wrath of a certain crowd) $\endgroup$ – James S. Cook May 5 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ (USA focus) In very large schools or in schools having a particular emphasis on science and math (example where I taught 3 years in the mid-late 1990s), this sounds like an excellent idea for the more advanced mathematics classes, and I suspect some teachers already do this, but I also suspect not as many as could/should do this. However, for the overwhelming vast majority $(\geq 95\%?)$ of schools, I think it would be a bit problematic. $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro May 5 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ First schools have to ensure that at least 80% of students know more than solving a system of two two-variable linear equations on a graphing calculator. Too much tech in schools already, and it only makes things worse. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core May 6 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ There are only $n$ hours of schooling a kid receives in total. If we want to discuss spending $n'$ hours on learning LaTeX, what other subjects or topics will we take these $n'$ hours away from? $\endgroup$ – Stephan Kolassa May 6 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ I doubt most secondary school math teachers know latex which would certainly interfere with their teach it. $\endgroup$ – Amy B May 6 at 11:53

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I'm a LaTeX user, but I'll stake out a devil's advocate position against this proposal. Reasons:

  1. Quality of mathematical thinking neither causes nor results from using a certain piece of software.

  2. Tech ed belongs in tech ed. K-12 education should mainly be about enriching people's intellectual lives and creating the level of education that makes it possible to have a functioning republic with universal suffrage. If kids are going to learn how to fix a fuel injector or use a particular piece of software, that's great, but that's tech ed, which is a separate thing from academic programs.

  3. Schools should not be telling kids what software to use. I would consider it an intolerable thing if my school district required every kid to use Windows at home, and by the same token they should not be requiring them to use some other software at home, even free, open-source software that I personally like.

  4. Beginners at coding need good error messages. Tex's error messages are infamously awful.

  5. For many kids, the only computer they have access to at home is a cell phone, and in many cases the only smartphone they have access to is one that belongs to a parent.

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    $\begingroup$ Schools should not be telling kids what software to use. For many kids, the only computer they have access to at home is a cell phone, and in many cases the only smartphone they have access to is one that belongs to a parent. The question does mention possibly using LaTeX for typing homework, but what about teaching it as a (mark-up) language (not software) and using school computers? Students can choose their own editor/compiler and they only have to use it on school computers. [I am just playing devil's critic in this case.] $\endgroup$ – Nick C May 5 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @NickC I routinely have my college students use markdown as a way to get started with tex so I'm sure it would be possible, but it would seem to fit better into a modeling unit. I think at the highschool level we're trying to get kids to understand and work with the concepts, if we want them to be able to type an essay on them as well we have to drop something. $\endgroup$ – Nate Bade May 5 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ School systems seem to have no trouble telling students and parents what software to use. At least around here. $\endgroup$ – user1027 May 5 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Schools should not be telling kids what software to use.". I'm curios, would you also say that about universities? If not, where do you see the difference? $\endgroup$ – Polygnome May 6 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ @user1027 "School systems seem to have no trouble telling students and parents what software to use." — Sad, but true. Parents and students need to push back harder. But it is ever more complicated now in the time of distant learning. $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core May 6 at 18:59
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This is not an answer to the posed question, but only an anecdote. This semester, teaching US college students (Discrete & Computational Geometry), I prepared all my assignments in LaTeX, and made available a .zip file of the .tex, .bbl, .bib, Figure/ directory constituting the assignment. Students could submit assignment answers in any form—from LaTeX .pdf, to a cell phone photo of handwritten answers, to physical handwritten sheets (prior to the pandemic).

I gave no LaTeX instructions, but linked to resources (MacOs, Windows, Linux). There was a monotonic increase in students editing the assignments in LaTeX over the semester. They learned LaTeX by seeing how I used it.

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    $\begingroup$ As a bonus, visually impaired students can feed the TeX to a screen reader, which (from what I've heard) seems to work much better than doing the same with the resulting PDF. $\endgroup$ – Christian Clason May 7 at 20:52
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I don't think it should be a base skill for students in general. Have held jobs in engineering, chemistry, military, and finance and never needed it. Nor did my colleagues.

Didn't need it for a thesis or science papers either. Just MS Word was fine. (I think I did enable the MSFT equation editor since it helps with typesetting sub and super scripts on same letters.)

Note, there may be areas of math or CS where it is more critical. But no reason why those who do need it, can't get it then. And even there, I suspect the "converts" will overemphasize the importance.

If you want general utility, I would push MSFT Office on the kids way before latex. Many jobs where those are very normal tools for white collar workers.

Also, I think you have to consider that time is limited and that many students aren't mastering core curriculum. Of course, lack of learning X, doesn't rule out trying to teach Y. But it should at least be a consideration. Also, time certainly is limited and the topics (not only math related) we might want to add into a curriculum are a "big set".

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    $\begingroup$ +1. I work in applied statistics research outside academia. I have never needed LaTeX for my work in the last 14 years. (I do write papers and my journal in LaTeX on the side as a relaxation and change from MS Word.) $\endgroup$ – Stephan Kolassa May 6 at 8:01
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if people perhaps do not recognize their need if they do not know a cure exists. Certainly, writing a thesis with WYSIWYG software is possible, and caring about the formatting and other problems in such documents is optional. In my experience people spend a lot more time on fixing and refixing problems in WYSIWYG than it would cost to learn the basics of using LaTeX. $\endgroup$ – hkBst May 6 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ @hkBst I think this might be a case of liking your hammer enough that everything begins to look like a nail. LaTeX automatically handles a great deal of formatting problems for particular formatting situations. However, if you step outside of those particular situations, wrestling with the automatic formatting to get what you want is often much more hassle than it's worth. For example, I work in a field where the primary objects of interest are typically the figures. I got so frustrated with LaTeX's automatic image placement that I stopped using it for presentations entirely. $\endgroup$ – probably_someone May 7 at 3:45
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    $\begingroup$ Very few things are truly irreplaceable. This is similar to arguing (as I've known older hobby programmers do) "I've only ever used notepad for programming and it was fine, there's no need for anything more complex". The argument shouldn't be that you absolutely need it, but that it makes life a great deal easier when writing papers later on. The question whether high school should prepare someone for university minutiae they could learn later is fair though. $\endgroup$ – Voo May 8 at 13:27
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This is clearly an opinion based question. I will answer based on my experience and opinion.

No, LaTeX should not be taught at high school. It is a skill that is costly to learn with essentially no benefit at high school level. Even at college level, it is not particularly useful. Homeworks are typically submitted handwritten which works perfectly fine. And for note taking LaTeX is far too slow.

The big benefit of LaTeX kicks in when it comes to thesis writing. When that happens, (either very late in UG career or during graduate studies) LaTeX can be picked up as part of the thesis writing experience.

I am a big fan of LaTeX. I love it. It's a very powerful tool, but it's a tool for a specific job that high school students (and even college students) are not required to do.

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I only want to give anecdotical advice since I happened to have been taught LaTeX in regular school (10th grade in the German system, iirc). However, I attended a school with a MINT focus and especially maths, also this was not part of the actual curriculum but the teacher "showed" us LaTeX and the interested students that we were promptly picked it up.

And I think that is key: Make people curious (generally a thing I strive for when teaching) about something they can learn. This is in my experience quite easy by showing them the results and the "magic" that it does.

The second thing is giving good resources. Proper LaTeX resources are difficult to find and many issues with LaTeX only surface when writing non-English texts as. If you ask me, nowadays everyone should use LuaLaTeX+polyglossia+csquotes+fontspec+OTF fonts as well as LaTeXmk (or similar) and not pdfLaTeX+babel+inputenc+fontenc+T1 fonts as the latter is only viable when you only use Latin characters without many diacritics. Many "problems" with LaTeX could be eradicated if the defaults where more sane and the resources not wrong or really old. Thus pointing to good resources and providing proper sample documents that are not horribly over-engineered but pleasant to read is definitely a way to go.

Primary Education

These things, however, apply to teaching LaTeX in general. Primary schools have a different aim though (enabling to partake in society), than higher education (preparing for job or general higher knowledge in case of universities). LaTeX itself is not critical for the former. However, there are reasons why one could evaluate teaching it, just as I was taught it: If you teach a class of interested students (not necessarily in maths IMHO) then showing LaTeX to them can be a way of enabling them to better choose what software they want to use and why. Most students get out of school with seeing Microsoft Office as the only real way forward not even knowing or considering alternatives, thus not being able to make an informed decision based on what values they prefer (be it technical aspects, licensing, privacy, not supporting a monopoly, ...).

So, while there might be less technical reason to show them LaTeX, there might be other reasons that are more about showing students something "outside the box".

Secondary Education

High schools have different aim as well, and I think we should separate between trade schools and universities. While the former is strictly preparation for later jobs, the second emphasizes free thinking and research. This, to me, is an important reason why one should show LaTeX to university students.

When teaching maths in high school we also have the technical reasons of LaTeX being "the" tool for the job. I'd definitely recommend showing it in high-school, while leaving choice.

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    $\begingroup$ "I'd definitely recommend showing it in high-school, while leaving choice." This is similar to what I was envisioning. If LaTeX is to be taught in secondary education, it should be as an elective for students who are interested in learning it. The idea would be to introduce LaTeX to the students who want to study mathematics in college because it is a tool that they will definitely encounter. $\endgroup$ – FoiledIt24 May 6 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ You say that with certainty, but six years of university and I never once had to know what LaTeX was, let alone use it. MS Word and Excel on the other hand, are everywhere, and paper is still my preference for taking notes. It does seem that you're encouraging the use of screwdrivers as though everything is built with them, forgetting that hammers and nails are still much more common and much easier to introduce... @FoiledIt24 $\endgroup$ – Nij May 7 at 5:12
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No, teach Markdown

Separation of content

This and future generations of students should learn to separate content from formatting. IT professionals have been very successful in applying this concept for over a decade. However, absent marketing and strong commercial interests have kept wider audiences from applying this very useful principle. Focusing on content instead of tinkering with format, is also extremely helpful in combating procrastination or fear of the empty page. Any distraction free plain text editor will do to create content in Markdown.

Writing content in Markdown

The most student friendly way to write content happens to be the very same markup language used over here at StackExchange; i.e. Markdown. Writing in Markdown has two advantages over writing directly in $\LaTeX$ or (X)HTML:

  1. Markdown is extremely easy to learn.
  2. Markdown does not require closing text environments with any tags or encapsulating it within any accolades.

Moreover, Markdown inherited the $\LaTeX$ way of entering mathematical formulae. Numerous other proponents of the use of Markdown in a teaching environment have exposed these arguments in more detail:

Document conversion with Pandoc

Markdown would not be as versatile as it is today, without the document conversion command tool Pandoc. Pandoc converts any Markdown file in a single go into a $\LaTeX$ PDF, MS Word™, LibreOffice Write, ConTeXt or even XHTML or HTML5 document, to name but a few. In such a workflow, $\LaTeX$ , apart from its math, gets reduced to essentially a templating language; which is not a bad thing.

Pandoc can also convert Markdown to XHTML. This may take things even further than $\LaTeX$, as it allows for unattended CSS typesetting. Such a feat is not possible with $\LaTeX$. More information about CSS paged media can be found here:

Free, Libre & Open Source Software

Pandoc is written as open source software by Prof. John MacFarlane of Berkeley. It runs locally on the PC and is freely available on all platforms (MS Windows™, Apple Mac OS, GNU/Linux,…) This is important, as not every household has money to spare on an annual Microsoft Office 365™ license subscription or on the latest hardware. Schools can even save the substantial amounts of annually recurring Microsoft licensing fees if they choose to run their (aged?) PCs on a GNU/Linux distribution, like for example Xubuntu LTS. Pandoc even runs on the cheap, educational and energy efficient Raspberry Pi. As such, it can easily be managed in a classroom using PiNet.

For the same reason one does not spray paint a giant red Coca Cola logo all over the whole schoolyard, educational institutions should stop spoon feeding their students commercial solutions of Microsoft, Apple or Google. The reason is simple: it enslaves. Some arguments can be found here:

Ending the publishing oligopoly

It is a well known that the publication of many peer-reviewed scholarly journals is in the hands of but a few publishing houses. These publishers most often charge prohibitive fees for journal subscriptions and article reprints. This hampers researchers world-wide across different economies.

Most of the power of these publishing houses stems from their (outsourced) knowledge about typesetting. Behind the scenes, this typesetting is often actually done with $\LaTeX$.

If we teach our students the right free and open tools today, one may hope that those pursuing an academic career will one day be capable to edit their own peer-reviewed scholarly journals. Pandoc Markdown plays a crucial role in this pursuit, as is evidenced by these articles:

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    $\begingroup$ Are you sure high schoolers need Markdown? I'm not. $\endgroup$ – Nyos May 10 at 19:47
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I'd suggest exposing students to LaTeX, perhaps by having them doing a assignment/project with it, perhaps in a group, but not requiring them to learn much about it.

This would seem to have several advantages:

  1. It gives students an idea of a tool that they might later use.

  2. It increases their understanding of what's out there, broadening their general knowledge about the world.

  3. It lays the groundwork for those who might later use something like it.

Generally, I'm of the opinion that educational-exposure is underrated. I perceive there to be a lot of value in showing students what's out there and giving them a brief opportunity to play with it, plus the ability to follow-up if they're interested.

So, I'd suggest showing them LaTeX in a low-pressure setting. Perhaps:

  1. Provide type-set documents, showing them the source code and output without making them work for it.

  2. Give them the opportunity to experiment with it, perhaps more free-form or challenging them to be creative.

  3. Talk to them about ways and places in which LaTeX can be useful. For example, in composing documents for publication and in writing stuff on websites that have $\mathrm{\TeX}$ enabled.

  4. Likewise talk to them about alternatives, e.g. the type-setting in Microsoft Word, Wolfram Mathematica, and other document-composition or/and mathematical environments.

  5. Contextualize what LaTeX is by talking about markdown-vs.-presentation. Give other common examples of markup/presentation languages, e.g. HTML.

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First, LaTeX is a markup language and should be taught as such; trying to use it as a programming language would be an exercise in frustration.

Second, I believe that all HS students should learn a markup language as an alternative to WYSIAYG.

Third, while I routinely use LaTeX both for papers and for short documents, I am not convinced that it is suitable as a student's first markup language. Something like DocBook, HTML or Markdown might be more appropriate. The original documentation hasn't been updated in ages, the newer documentation is scattered and the error messages are terrible.

Fourth, with all its faults LaTeX is very powerful and I would like to see HS students learn it after they are confortable with an easier markup language.

Fifth, LaTeX was not nearly as painful for me as ms word; every time I tried simple things like copying items from an ordered list it totally garbled the formatting.

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Dave from Boyinaband had a song about all the stuff he found useless in school. While I disagree with some particular things, his opinion in general is right. There are too many things taught that aren't needed by most students.

Latex might be good for maths professors. How many people go to that field? Not a lot. Those who go there can learn Latex easily (or use something else). Teaching this in high school is pointless. Time is limited, and it could be used better for almost anything. (e.g. whatever he mentions, or Python)

So no.

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My feeling is LaTeX could be part of a very gentle introduction to computer programming. Maybe. Or it could be taught by a math instructor if the students have already seen HTML. Otherwise there are plenty of other things that could be taught in its place.

Suppose you want to very slowly work up to coding -- like "AP Programming Principles" does. Learning any mark-up language is an easy warm-up. Web-page HTML is the simplest. After that, LaTeX could be the second. It's still just a mark-up language, but different: the {}'s look much more like computer code, as do the cascading cryptic errors. Now you can point to 2 concrete skills: making a web page, and making a good-looking pdf. And they understand the general concept of mark-up. When they see the syntax of Java or Python -- just more mark-up.

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