Shelby Knox is something of a contradiction. She’s from a very
    conservative Republican family but she holds some liberal viewpoints.
    She’s a Southern Baptist who has pledged to remain abstinent from sex
    until she marries, yet she campaigned for improved sex education at
    Lubbock’s Coronado High School. And she volunteered at a local
    Planned Parenthood. But the piece de resistance was when she aligned
    herself with students who were trying to form a local gay-straight alliance,
    despite the overwhelming lack of public support. In short, she was
    perfectly cut out to be the subject of a film.

            Directors Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt lucked out when
    they decided to focus on then-15-year-old Shelby for their documentary.
    Early in the film, they film her taking a vow of “sexual purity” (symbolized
    by a ring given to her by her parents). But pretty soon, young Shelby
    began to look around at her classmates and realized that the school’s
    “abstinence-only” sex education wasn’t working. Indeed, Lubbock had
    one of highest rates of both teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted
    diseases in the nation. Clearly, something wasn’t working. Recognizing
    that not everyone was mature enough or strong enough to follow a path
    of abstinence, Shelby agitated for changes in the program using her
    position on the city-funded Lubbock Youth Commission, a sort of junior
    city council for budding politicians. (We also watch as she loses the
    position of “mayor” of the Youth Commission to her archrival Corey
    Nichols.)

            The documentary follows Shelby Knox over the next three years as
    she fights to implement something other than the “abstinence-only”
    program. She proves articulate enough and the filmmakers include her
    conversations with her minister, Ed Ainsworth, as she tries to reconcile
    her Christian beliefs with what she knows to be the reality of the world.
    There are also scenes with her very supportive parents, who aren’t quite
    sure where this liberal girl came from, particularly after she starts to lobby
    for the gay and lesbian students. (To her mother’s credit, she joins Shelby
    on a picket line protesting the presence of right-wing protesters led by the
    Rev. Fred Phelps.)        

            Shelby Knox emerges as a somewhat headstrong, but there are
    flaws in the film. Because it is a portrait of the emergence of someone’s
    belief system, there isn’t necessarily a great deal of inherent drama, and
    indeed, some of the familial conflicts feel tacked on. The attempts by the
    filmmakers to paint Shelby’s rival Corey Nichols or her pastor Ed
    Ainsworth in less favorable lights don’t come off either. Still, the film has
    a certain resonance: it’s heartening to see young people who have the
    courage of their convictions. Whatever the future may hold for Shelby
    Knox, her “education” already proved that she’s a formidable young
    woman.


                                         Rating:                 B-
Copyright 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
The Education of Shelby Knox
www.newfest.org