Film Review: “The Education of Shelby Knox”

“The Education of Shelby Knox” opens with Butch Hancock, guitar player for the Flatlanders, saying, “life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things: One is that God loves you, and you’re going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth, and you should save it for someone you love.”

Welcome to the home of Shelby Knox, an ambitious teenager who fights for comprehensive, fact-based sex education in the town’s public schools. The audience meets Knox at the age of 13 and watches her evolution from a na?ve child into a mature teen.

Using the Lubbock Youth Commission, Knox fights an array of almost comical villains, from her fellow council-mate and future politico Corey Nichols to the charismatic Pastor Ed Ainsworth, who Knox calls “the only sex ed that kids get in Lubbock.” Ainsworth delivers seminars based on an abstinence-only policy in 200 Texas junior high schools, at one point proclaiming, “sex is for dogs.”

In one of his fire and brimstone speeches, Ainsworth says, “Safe sex? You’ve been lied to, kids. [You will] get hurt physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially” by being sexually active before marriage. When asked about showing students how to use a condom, Ainsworth looks confused and slightly offended, then asks why one would bring condoms into the schools. “You would bring a gun into school and teach kids how to use it, would you?”

Earlier in the film, Knox watched in wide-eyed amazement as a volunteer at an AIDS clinic unrolls a tri-colored “tuxedo” condom. “I thought all condoms were black!” she exclaims, coloring slightly as everyone laughs. While there are a number of laughs at the expense of na?ve students, some of what they say is shockingly ignorant. During one drawn out meeting, an exasperated student claims to know for a fact “that most homosexuals die by the age of 40.”

Some of the most compelling moments of the documentary show discussions between Ainsworth and Knox. As the film continues, she begins to more deeply question Ainsworth and her religious convictions. “Some people see him as my mentor, but that was never really true. He was just sort of a spiritual advisor that I turned to for a while and very quickly realized he was not who I wanted to be.” In a Hatchet interview, Knox said that sometimes it was difficult to have cameras following her during deeply personal struggles. “It’s very difficult to turn your life over to someone and give them editing power.” However she revealed that she “innately trusted” directors Rose Ronsenblatt and Marion Lipschutz when she met them.

Currently, Knox studies at the University of Texas at Austin, writes for a feminist magazine about feminist issues and sex ed, working to create a sex ed day on campus and is continuing her push for better sex ed in Texas public schools. She most recently testified in front of the Texas State Board of Education regarding recently adopted health textbooks that advise students “to prevent pregnancy, you should drink a lot of water and get a lot of rest.”

“I had these excerpts from these textbooks and would go through and highlight all the parts that were alarming and it was all yellow by the time I was done,” Knox said.

“The Education of Shelby Knox” is currently seeking distribution in the U.S.

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