When most of us see younger versions of ourselves in pictures or home movies, it's in the privacy of our own home in the company of friends and loved ones. For Shelby Knox, some of those images will be seen across the nation, in prime time, when The Education of Shelby Knox (directed by Rose Rosenblatt and Marion Lipschutz) launches the 18th season of the POV documentary series on PBS. If that weren't enough, Knox's education is about one of the most controversial issues in U.S. culture today: discussing sex in the public schools and attitudes toward sex in general.
Born and raised in Lubbock and reared as a Southern Baptist, Knox soon found that abstinence-only sex education was the rule in the Lubbock Public School System. However, at the time of the filming (when Knox was 15), Lubbock had one of the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the state. Apparently, the abstinence-only message was not working. So, Knox, as a member of the Lubbock Youth Commission, began to advocate for a comprehensive sex education program. It is in this campaign that the real education begins.
Filmed over a period of three years, viewers see a young woman's formation as a community activist. It's also a fascinating study of a young person having her personal world-view challenged, reshaped, and finally redefined and accepted but not without shedding a few tears along the way.
Now an 18-year-old junior at the University of Texas at Austin, Knox has no regrets about seeing the more vulnerable 15-year-old version of herself.
"I spend a lot of time crying in the film," said Knox in a recent phone interview from her home in Lubbock, "being upset about what people thought of me. Not everyone is going to like me, but you need to deal with that if you want to make change. Now, I realize that if people are not upset [with me], I'm not doing something right."
If taking on the Lubbock School administration were not challenging enough, things get even tougher when Knox decides to stand behind a group of gay students who have decided to sue the Lubbock School Board. When an anti-gay group claiming Christian values stages a protest against the gay students (their picket signs read "God Hates Fags") Knox participates in a counterdemonstration, an important public gesture that brings The Education of Shelby Knox full circle.
"I think God wants you to question," she says in the film, "to do more than just blindly be a follower, because he can't use blind followers. He can use people like me who realize there's more in the world that can be done."
The Education of Shelby Knox airs Tuesday, June 21, on KLRU. Check listings for additional airdates.
Other POV films this summer include:
June 28: Big Enough (D: Jan Krawitz): Producer-director Krawitz picks up where her Emmy-nominated film Little People left off. Twenty years earlier, the subjects of her first film were children and young adults, learning to live as dwarfs in a world that is definitely not designed for them. A clear-eyed view of growing up as a little person in spite of the big obstacles makes Big Enough a standout.
July 5: Street Fight (D: Marshall Curry): And you thought Texas politics were dirty. Curry's film follows the 2002 mayoral race in Newark, N.J., where Sharpe James, Newark's mayor for 16 years, finds himself challenged by a charismatic, newly elected councilman Cory Booker. Newark's poorest neighborhood, the Central Ward, becomes the arena where the campaign unfolds in front of the camera, but it's the offscreen infighting, underhanded maneuvers, and shameless truth-polishing that provides a lesson in fighting against astonishing odds to do the right thing.
July 13: The Fire Next Time (D: Patrice O'Neill): Free speech, economic development, environmental activism, and anti-government sentiments come together in Kalispell, Mont., an idyllic place where tensions between old Kalispell and newcomers have reached a dangerous, and potentially deadly, breaking point.
The POV season continues through September. For a complete listing of films, go to www.pbs.org/pov.
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