Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Review – The Education of Shelby Knox

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September 25, 2012

If you’re fortunate enough have a free evening this busy fall semester, I recommend grabbing a box of Swedish Fish and watching The Education of Shelby Knox on Netflix Instant. Centering around one 15 year-old girl’s fight to bring comprehensive sex education to her abstinence-only high school, the film really gets to the heart of what it takes to inspire progress in communities where few things ever change.

Setting is everything for a movie, and documentaries are no exception. Shelby Knox is a student in Lubbock, Texas, a town that—while overwhelmingly conservative and religious—has given birth to several rebellious progressive voices, including Natalie Maines and Buddy Holly. Over the course of The Education, you’ll witness Knox begin to follow in their footsteps of independent thought.

As a twentysomething year-old university student, it might seem as if I would have little in common with the 15 year-old subject of an eight year-old documentary. However, as someone who is living in the Southeastern US, I come across many of the religious and cultural barriers that Shelby does in The Education. And as someone also working to make both LGBTQ spaces and birth control more accessible on my university’s campus, I’ve had more than my share of head-butts with authority figures.

If anything, I’ve learned from Knox.

There is no one easy, foolproof way to talk about reproductive justice in conservative regions. I’ve realized that—while people do not always respond to statistics or rational facts about reproductive healthcare—they are always up for a story. By talking about our bodies, experiences, and feelings, we make things personal and stand a better chance of resonating with those who truly believe that abstinence is the only way. These are the reasons why Knox gets along so well with her religious, GOP-voting parents and adversaries. They know where she’s coming from.

In The Education, a queer student poses critical question to an abstinence-only proponent:
“Homosexuals have almost the same rights as you do. But abstinence-only, sex-after-marriage education only works for those who have the right to marry. What are you going to do about the rest of us?”

While Knox begins her journey focusing on bringing sex education to her school, seeing how everything is connected, she becomes a gay rights advocate in the process. She even starts a Gay-Straight Alliance at her high school. This moment is intersectional feminism at its finest.

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