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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Edification of Shelby Knox

Idealogues usually seek to galvanize those who side with them and sway those sitting on the fence. The rare find is the unbeliever who undergoes the landmark conversion. These people are so sought after that their own personal issues may be set aside. There's Norma McCorvey, the "Roe" of Roe v Wade who has become a Christian pro-life activist, even though she has a lesbian lover.

The transformative power of liberalism is the moral to the story in "The Education of Shelby Knox." The documentary aired tonight on PBS' POV program. It follows a Frontline about civilian contractors in Iraq who spend too much government money and are all owned by Haliburton. Don't worry though, PBS isn't liberal.

This documentary starts out as a slice of life in the sleepy (in a NYC filmmaker's eyes) town of Lubbock, Texas (population 199,000). This city has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates and an abstinence-only sex education policy. One wonders if every city with high pregnancy rates has the same sex-ed system, but the documentary doesn't bother with such minutiae. This is the intro to the Shelby Knox Show.

Knox is a churchgoing, hard-driving "good Southern Baptist girl" who among her many extracurriculars, is a member of the city financed Lubbock Youth Commission dealing with local issues centered around teen disrespect and unruly behavior. Her displeasure at being crossed develops early when she loses an election for mayor of the Commission to Corey Nichols, the first villain of the piece.

There are villains aplenty throughout the 76 minute program. Among them are Ed Ainsworth, a youth pastor who promotes abstinence and seems to go off track when he deviates from his motivational script. There is also Jack Clemmons, the do-nothing superintendent who was having an affair and using school computers to talk dirty with an employee. There are also various Christians and Republicans who dare to stand up for their beliefs. By the end, the word 'Republican" comes out as more of an epithet when Knox says it.

Shelby Knox becomes increasingly indignant at the religious leaders who try to explain Baptist teaching. She starts to argue that no one can tell her what she should believe God wants from her. Generally, her pastor would be the one to tell her about the teachings of the Bible. She later believes that premarital sex and homosexuality are all okay in God's eyes after a supposed moral opposition to them.

Shelby's "True Love Waits" pledge holds an important role in the movie. The fact that she is willing to wait even while she goes to contraceptive demonstrations supports the idea that sex-ed and abstinence are not mutually exclusive. Of course, Knox was pretty dismissive about the teenage dating scene from the start. One suspects she was planning all along to save herself from small town boys.

It is commendable to have enough self esteem so that you do not derive it from the attention of a guy or your peers. It becomes a problem when you have have such a high opinion of yourself that you seek out the most public avenues of attention getting.

The story changes when GAP, a gay student group that wants to form a club in Lubbock schools, sues the district. They are thwarted by the district's policy of barring non-school sponsored clubs. Shelby then tries to be the power broker to bring GAP and the Youth Commission together. Corey Nichols sees disaster ahead and decides GAP's fight is not their fight. As Knox flounders at the Commission, she lashes out by working with GAP on her own. The major focus on sex education causes the city to question funding the Youth Commission. Nichols decides to save it as a community service organization and Knox throws herself into the GAP battle.

As the story progresses, Shelby's parents increasingly came off as well-meaning doormats. They argue that she might not want to go so far, but in the next scene she's driving around in a brand new SUV worth about as much as my house. They continually praise her for individuality (while followed around by a like-minded camera crew) as she breaks further from parental teachings. The take-out dinner scene before the sex-ed rally also makes you wonder how often the parents are around.

The truth is that Shelby Knox did not experience personal growth over two years that made her see the light of liberalism. She went from group to group, responding to the ego boost that being a contrarian offered. The Youth Commission exposed her to the idea of sex education. When she lost the election, she then threw herself into sex-ed to the exclusion of other Commission issues. When they decided to drop the issue, she went with a gay group seeking a club in the high school. When that failed, she set her sights toward college, where she is regarded as a trailblazer. One hard to find nugget on the web mentions that Shelby was aided in her "education" by the documentarians themselves

Corey Nichols probably said it best when he described her as a "limelight chaser." Shelby Knox had a film crew point the light at her. The more she broke out, the more often she got the limelight. Being the good girl wasn't nearly as rewarding as being a star.

Tag: Shelby Knox


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