Doc of the Day: The Education of Shelby Knox Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: The Education of Shelby Knox

Posted in Days of Docs by - March 10, 2012

It’s a story of coming of age crossed with political awakening, as Shelby Knox fights for sex ed reform in her hometown.

Dir. Marion Lipschutz & Rose Rosenblatt, 2005, 76 min

Every time I bemoan growing up in nowhere, Maryland, I consider that there are places to have lived in America that are even more stifling. Like, say… Lubbock, Texas. Lubbock, which sounds like a name Lewis Carroll would come up with for a monster, is a town choked with good ol’-fashioned conservative values. The school system teaches abstinence only and abstinence only… well, only. This is while the city has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STD in the nation. But Jesus wouldn’t want us teaching our kids to have sex, or something, so nothing changes.

Shelby Knox, a teenager, tried to buck the system. Working as part of Lubbock’s youth council, she campaigned for a change in the sex ed curriculum. The Education of Shelby Knox follows her crusade through her sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school. Standing between her and progress are pastors, teachers, bureaucrats, and a general state of ignorance and resistance to modernity.

Shelby’s fight only serves as a spine for the film’s story, though. The movie is really about a certain time of life, when you’re trying to figure out the person you’re going to become. It’s about questioning what you’ve been taught growing up, and asserting yourself as a voice worth hearing. The friction between Shelby and her environment and upbringing leads to an evolution in her character. It’s her story, but it’s a million other teen’s story as well.

It’s pretty close to my story, for one. I grew up in a tradition of Republican Christendom that’s near identical to Shelby’s. Numerous times throughout the movie, I laughed as I recognized all the familiar signposts of conservative Jesus freakism, homophobia, and jingoism, right down to the same cheesy worship music. And like Shelby, I developed a different understanding of the world as I began to question things like Biblical literalism and the church’s relationship to the state. Even her parents’ reaction to her activism, a sort of apprehensive but still supportive amusement, matches what I’ve experienced.

So this movie hit me pretty personally, and others might not connect so readily with it. But really, teenage rebellion is pretty universal, isn’t it? And even if you can’t sympathize with Shelby’s living situation, you can still cheer her on as she fights the power. There’s a contradictory standard in our culture that teens are stupid or worthless to society, and yet we stigmatize any teen who speaks up (especially girls) as “granola” or something like that. Shelby flies in the face of both of those stereotypes. She knows what she’s talking about, and she holds her own against the grown-ups. She’s one of the young people who give you hope for the future.

The film drags in a few spots, mainly early on, as it includes a few bits about normal teenhood that aren’t very interesting. Otherwise, it moves smoothly, and keeps up the energy. The Education of Shelby Knox won’t give you much optimism that Texas will grow up anytime soon, but it will raise your spirits. It’s a great showcase for the passion of youth, and encapsulates the personal upheavals which drive that passion.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

Leave Your Comment

%d bloggers like this: