Inspiration for a documentary often comes like a bolt from the heavens: significant, awe-inspiring, astounding. You read an article or editorial about some great injustice happening in a corner of the universe or you hear your sibling or child utter some remarkable, fantastic misguided notion, and suddenly you are off on a journey. That is the way it was with The Education of Shelby Knox.
"If I don't have an orgasm, I can't get pregnant, right?" "If a girl pees directly after intercourse, she can't get pregnant, right? "Masturbation causes cancer, doesn't it?" "Abortion can lead to sterility and suicide." These are some of the quotes we heard that were coming out of the mouths of kids when we decided to make a film about sex education.
When we first met Shelby Knox she was pledging in a church ceremony to be chaste until marriage. She had also just joined a group of teens fighting for better sex education in their Lubbock, Texas school district. Through Shelby and the other teens we had a way of making facts come alive, a way of showing how the federal government had gotten into the business of funding abstinence sex education, and how faith-based groups were shaping educational policies. In Lubbock the teens were sure that the abstinence until marriage sex ed was failing; the counties' teen pregnancy and STD rates were soaring.
When Shelby herself was 15, there were three pregnant girls in her math class. When she asked one of them a question about homework, the girl looked at her in shock and said, "I can't believe you talked to me. You're popular. No one's talked to me since I got pregnant." A few weeks later Shelby joined the sex ed fight. Soon after, we started to follow her story.
Over the next three years we watched a courageous, religious girl struggle to make her notions of tolerance and compassion jive with those of the adults around her. We watched her wrestle with her faith, her politics, her pastor and her family. We often didn't know what Shelby would become, but we had faith that we'd found a remarkable young woman, who was willing to take us along on a turbulent ride through all the ups and downs of adolescence, with her family in tow.
Five years after we began, we finally finished our film. We have been thrilled to find audiences responding to Shelby as a girl in whom the harsh realities and divisions now plaguing the U.S. could be bridged momentarily. We hope that with your help, The Education of Shelby Knox will have impact beyond broadcast and will encourage people to question what should be taught in schools, what is the role of government and religion in secular life, and how will religion define our national dialogue.
Thank you again for being our audience,
Rose Rosenblatt and Marion Lipshutz