The Austin Chronicle

Pray Tell

'The Education of Shelby Knox'

By Joe O'Connell, March 11, 2005, Screens

Shelby Knox is a budding politician, a show-off, and a sincere Christian hell-bent on questioning authority in Lubbock, a land were questioners are questionable at best. She's also a charismatic teenager coming of age in the documentary The Education of Shelby Knox. Not long after taking a public vow to stay celibate until her wedding night, the 15-year-old joins the city-financed Lubbock Youth Commission and sets out to change Lubbock's rep as a capital of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Her target is the school district's abstinence-only sex education policy.

Filmmakers Marion Lipshutz and Rose Rosenblatt spent a year searching for the right city involved in a sex education debate. Once they found Lubbock, Knox jumped onto their radar. "There's this magic thing called being telegenic," Rosenblatt says. "They can relax and feel real; they can't be self-conscious and inhibited. Shelby was one of those people."

The documentary tackles a weighty topic, and the filmmakers want the public to see the effects of heavy investment by the federal government in challenge grants, most going to faith-based organizations, to teach abstinence-based sex education. But it is the cast of characters who give this film depth: the Rev. Ed Ainsworth, who frosts his hair and sports a hipster goatee as he tries to connect with teens, but blurts out, "Christianity is the most intolerant religion in the world, and we get a lot of heat for that"; Corey, Knox's political competition on the Youth Commission and a hungry junior politician in his own right; and Knox's parents, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives who support their daughter, most of the time, as she takes on one cause after another. "They walked the party line," Rosenblatt says, "in this case the Republican party line, yet they were so supportive of both sex education and their daughter."

Lipshutz sees the film as a real representation of the issues facing a nation divided between the so-called red and blue states. "No one film can completely change the world, Michael Moore notwithstanding," she says. "Change happens in increments, and this is an increment. I hope a lot of religious people see it and realize that Christianity isn't the same as right-wing politics, that Christianity is completely compatible with liberal politics."

Expect Knox, now a University of Texas student, to be there when the film screens for South by Southwest. She'll be coming from Washington, where in the past few days she's been lobbying a more influential group of politicians for the sex education cause.

The Education of Shelby Knox screens at 11am, Sunday, March 13, Alamo South Lamar; and 4:30pm, Wednesday, March 16, Austin Convention Center.

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