We were so pleased when we saw the finished film at Sundance. Rose, Marion and Gary did such a beautiful job! To see Shelby up there answering questions during the Q & A was such a proud moment for us. The filming experience was mostly good, although the tension of what was happening with the Youth Commission and everything Shelby went through was very difficult as a family. You never want to see your child hurting. Now that the film is finished and doing so well we are happy that we did it. Shelby has been able to experience so many wonderful things that not many 18-year-olds will ever get to do. We were certaintly supportive of what she was fighting for and still are. It is such a huge problem and here in Lubbock we are seeing more and more of it. Just recently we had a junior high girl diagnosed with HIV, letters sent home to junior high students parents, and free confidential testing for anyone who wanted it. We continue to hope that LISD will come to realize that the abstinence program is not working.
— Danny and Paula Knox
POV: Shelby, what have you been up to since graduating from high school? Are you continuing to work on the issues explored in the film, or are you also working on other issues at your university? What advocacy work takes up the most of your time these days?
Shelby Knox: I am now a first-year sophomore at the University of Texas. I am a pre-law student with a major in political science and a minor in communications. I have continued to work to raise awareness of the problems regarding sex education in Texas and across the nation. I testified before the Texas State Board of Education in an effort to convince them to adopt more comprehensive texts to be used in health classes. I am now organizing a sex ed fest on my campus to promote personal responsibility. I have recently applied to become a peer educator for the University of Texas; I will get certified to teach sex education courses through this program. I have also branched out to other forms of activism. I am writing for a collegiate feminist magazine called The F-Word. I have written on sex education for the first magazine and my future article topics range from women in religion to female genital mutilation. I have also joined a group that promotes the passage of legislation in support of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Most of my time is spent organizing and enacting advocacy around the film; I speak to young activists at conferences across the nation about teen leadership.
POV: Are you still involved with your community in Lubbock and the high school there? What is happening in Lubbock these days around this issue? Are there still students working on these issues in Lubbock?
Shelby: I moved away from Lubbock five days after my high school graduation! However, I have a younger brother who attends junior high in the Lubbock Independent School District. There is still an abstinence-only policy in the district, although my brother tells me that the school board may be forced to change that position after recent events. A fourteen year-old junior high school student tested positive for HIV and infected several other students with the virus. Lubbock news stations publicly blamed the district for its failure while teachers privately agreed. There are several groups that are organizing around this issue once again. One group with connections to local hospitals is looking into further educating parents so that they are prepared to provide their kids with accurate information regarding their sexuality. The students of GAP did not appeal the decision that denied them the right to post signs and meet in schools because of a legal technicality that would make it difficult to win. Students from Coronado High School, my high school, may bring a similar case against the school board early next school year.
POV: What advice would you give to high school students that are interested in advocacy work?
Shelby: Students must begin to realize that although they are young, they still have rights. However, they must use their voices to protect those rights. I would encourage any young person interested in activism to learn all they can about the issue in which they wish to become involved. Figure out the local, state, and national agencies that can help you achieve your goals. Secondly, figure out a simple message and course of action and stick with it. If you change your message the public may get confused and lose interest. Also, figure out a working relationship with the media that may want to cover your activism. Appearing on television and being quoted in newspapers is a good way to bring attention to your cause, but can alienate some supporters. But most of all, I would encourage young activists to develop a strong support group. You need family and friends that will support and be with you for the failures and successes that come with all activism work. Remember that no matter what happens, you are unique in that you are fighting for something you believe in!
POV: Tell us about your experiences speaking in conjunction with screenings of “The Education of Shelby Knox.” What has been the most positive or negative? What reactions have you heard from other teenagers about the film? Any surprises?
Shelby: I have been extremely lucky to get to travel across the nation to screen the film and speak in question and answer sessions that follow it. I have been to the East and West coasts, the Midwest, and my home state of Texas, and the audience reaction is different in each city. My favorite screenings were the ones at the Sundance Film Festival. The excitement of the festival combined with the attentive and intelligent audiences made for great Q & A sessions. Most reactions have been positive; I have been honored to meet many people who would like to help me and other teen activists work for better sex education and equal rights for homosexuals. I appreciate when people come up to me after a screening and share their own experiences with the issues explored in the film. I have had very few negative reactions, although some people have said they disagree with me politically or religiously. I am most excited to see the teens in the audience. Most love the film and many are inspired to become involved in advocating for their own rights. As for surprises…I never expected to receive a standing ovation. It warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes every time!
POV: What are you studying in college? What are your plans for the future?
Shelby: I am majoring in political science with a minor in communications. My favorite courses are those with a feminist slant, and I am even taking an Ethics and Documentary Film class! I was also chosen to spend a semester in Washington D.C. during the spring of 2006. I will take classes and work at an internship regarding sex education and women’s rights. After graduating from college I plan to attend law school. I would like to end up somewhere on the East Coast; preferably New York City or Washington D.C. I want to enter politics as soon as possible; I may run for a local office in Austin in the next couple of years. Eventually, I do want to run for high elective office. I will always keep sex education, gay rights and women’s rights in my platform. Hopefully you will be able to vote for me for president one day!
Sex Education in the U.S.
Since 1996, the United States has committed over $1.1 billion dollars (through both federal and state matching funds) to abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Additional funding proposed in the President’s new budget would bring the total allocated for these programs to $205.5 million for fiscal year 2006, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2004.
Yet there is no scientific evidence* that abstinence-only programs are effective. Most recently, Rep. Henry A. Waxman released a report showing that many federally funded abstinence-only education programs use curricula that distort information about the effectiveness of contraceptives, misrepresent the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, treat stereotypes about girls and boys as scientific fact, and contain basic scientific errors.
In addition, state evaluations of the abstinence-only federal initiative are just now becoming available. Evaluations from Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and even President Bush’s home state of Texas found that abstinence-only programs show little, if any, evidence of success in impacting teen sexual behavior.
The Institute of Medicine has cited abstinence-only-until-marriage programs as examples of “poor fiscal and public health policy,” and, in addition, the nation’s most trusted medical organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Society for Adolescent Medicine (SAM), all support comprehensive sex education — an approach that includes strong messages of both abstinence and contraception. Every Surgeon General since C. Everett Koop has also recommended a comprehensive approach to sex education.
No federal funding currently exists for comprehensive sex education in the schools. Recently, however, The Responsible Education About Life Act (the REAL Act) — H.R. 768 and S. 368 *mdash; was introduced in both the House and Senate. This bill would provide funding to states for medically accurate, age appropriate, comprehensive sex education in the schools — education that includes information about both abstinence and contraception, from both a values and public health perspective.
— Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt
* As you saw in the film, the debate over which approach works best in America’s schools is one that engenders strong opinions and lively discussions. To hear other points of view on this issue, please read our interview with Dr. Joe McIlhaney, the founder of the Medical Institute of Sexual Health and a proponent of abstinence-only sex education, and take the time to tell us your position in our viewer discussion boards.