The Education of Shelby Knox (2005)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Social Issues  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States  |  
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Documentary filmmakers are naturally drawn to subjects with a flair for the dramatic, but because they're working in an unscripted medium, they can never be sure they'll actually get something good once filming starts. In The Education of Shelby Knox, it's not that the quartet of credited directors came away empty, but let's just say the results probably weren't as inflammatory as they hoped or expected. But the film still manages to be engrossing as a snapshot of the prototypical small American town and its corresponding value system. Sex education in schools can be a tough sell even in liberal communities, so the resistance is tenacious in a conservative haven like Lubbock, Texas. And The Education of Shelby Knox provides many such examples of the clash between the titular youth, a pledged virgin who believes in helping lower her town's alarming teen pregnancy rate, and the many religious-minded opponents to her mission, including her own parents. In one of those moments that speaks volumes, a local Christian crusader, who had previously served as an advisor to Shelby, scolds her that he hears tolerance in her words -- as though it's perfectly normal to construe the word "tolerance" as negative. Like Jesus Camp and other films where the interview subjects don't realize their words will be fodder for liberal derision, The Education of Shelby Knox lets its players walk into their own traps. But as much as it's interesting to watch the town leaders engage -- or fail to engage -- Shelby's arguments, the soul of her struggle may be with her parents, who walk a fine line between mocking her values and providing the parental support necessary for her to succeed. Their spawning of this awakened young liberal is proof that an engaged mind can indeed escape its pre-programming, even in Lubbock, Texas.