In a February 28th article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, author Jessica Blanchard quotes "experts" who argue that devoting class time that would ordinarily have been spent on handwriting to computer skills is crippling our children.
Maybe it's just me, but this sounds a lot like a fourth grade teacher trying to justify holding onto the old ways of doing things. I have terrible handwriting. It has never stopped me from being able to decipher my own notes. In fact, it has probably helped me be able to read others' terrible handwriting (I used to work as a medical secretary). All this despite the fact that I never close my a's and I draw my I's backwards (according to my fifth grade teacher).
With computers becoming ever cheaper, is the day we sit down at a keyboard to write an essay test really so far off? [see note] Certain colleges have been requiring that undergraduates bring a computer to campus since I was in high school 25 years ago. Certainly now they're de rigeur, if not required. There are already software programs being used in distance learning classes that support administration of both multiple-choice and essay tests. Blackboard is the program that Klaus's school uses for all his schoolwork. It's not perfect, but it works.
I absolutely agree that if your focus, as you're writing, is on forming the letters, you're not going to be as eloquent as you could be. But the answer to this problem is not more handwriting instruction but less. Grade essays on content, not whether the page looks pretty. If you want to give extra credit points for a neatness, fine, but don't count off for its lack. Handwriting should be thought of as an art form, like calligraphy. Computer skills are not masking the importance of handwriting, because handwriting is not important. The function of writing--communication of ideas--must be more important than the form.
NOTE: 5/2/06 Scottish schoolchildren sit online exams for the first time ever, according to BBC News. You heard it here first, folks! :D