Interesting observations John, on a topic I’ve never really resolved for myself either. My handwriting at school was never great and I too was advised to practice .. which as a 7, 8, 9 year old, of course I took to assiduously! In later years however, as a teacher writing annual reports for students, I was often complimented by parents on my handwriting. How things can change! I’m doing a fair bit of writing these days as you can imagine, and like you, I find the process of drafting, reviewing editing and redrafting so much more effective (and fulfilling!) using digital technologies. Nor, as you suggested, is it only about the finished product, but for me, is about the mental processes through which I go whilst working towards a finished product. It’s about learning. Even if I wanted, I wouldn’t be allowed to submit a finished product in handwritten form, but it’s interesting to speculate what effect it might have had on my learning. I am in no doubt whatsoever that the two products (digital and analogue) would have constituted quite different knowledge (There’s a bit of actor-network theorising hiding behind there by the way ;-).
To return to the the pupils though, I think I agree with both you and Kenny, though am of course singularly unqualified to justify that. Were they my pupils, I’d want to expose them to both the digital and analogue realms and I’d probably shift the balance from an emphasis on handwriting in the early years more towards digital as they got older. I’d justify that in a couple of ways (although I can’t point to any research evidence – shame on me!), but I would invoke the more universally applicable notion that people are indeed different. What might work best for one wean won’t necessarily work for all. I wonder what the right ethical thing to do would be for an 8 year old John Johnston equivalent these days? Oblige them to work at their handwriting until it is considered ‘acceptable,’ or to encourage them to develop, record and express their ideas using whatever means suit them better? There’s quite a lot to unpick there I’m sure.