Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight Presenter, Says Schools Should Teach Kids About The British Empire

Jeremy Paxman

First Posted: 18/10/2011 06:32 Updated: 17/12/2011 09:12   PA

Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has criticised the "dreary educational establishment" for failing to teach schoolchildren about the British empire.

The University Challenge host, 61, said that it was "stupid" to claim that the empire was "behind us". Paxman wrote in the Radio Times: "We've just passed the 10th anniversary of the decision to send British soldiers to fight in Afghanistan. Our leaders tell us most of our soldiers will be home in a few years' time. Already nearly 400 of them have been repatriated in coffins."

He added: "Getting into harm's way is what soldiers do. But why were our generals so keen to deploy them? Much of the explanation lies in our history. This may be the first American war in Afghanistan. But it is the third British campaign there."

Paxman said it was wrong to "persist in claiming that the empire is behind us".

He said: "This great motive force of our country for so long is not even part of the school curriculum. The dreary educational establishment has passed judgment. It was A Bad Thing, end of story. 'It's irrelevant', was the way one particularly benighted teacher put it to me."

He added: "It is not just for the sake of the young men who chance their lives for their generals' 'glory' that we should try harder. For the empire is still all around us."

Citing everything from "the genetic makeup of the British people" to the "tandoori restaurants and open-all-hours corner shops on our high streets", Paxman, who is presenting a BBC1 series on the British empire, said "the marks of our own empire are everywhere".

He said: "Pretending we don't need to think about it is just stupid."

He added that "the United Kingdom is an imperial creation, invented after Scotland had been almost bankrupted by a crackpot attempt to create an empire of its own".

Paxman added: "Joining forces with the English was a much better bet, and Scots became ferocious British imperialists. Is it any wonder that with the British Empire reduced now to 14 tiny blobs on the world map, Alex Salmond and the Scottish Nationalists have their tails up?"

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Filed by Dina Rickman  |