Coming of age in Texas

“The Education of Shelby Knox,” an official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, will premiere nationally on the 18th season of the PBS documentary series P.O.V., announced Cara Mertes, P.O.V. executive director.

The film is a Documentary Competition selection at Sundance in Park City, Utah, from January 20-30. Television’s first and most-awarded showcase for independent non-fiction film, P.O.V. (a cinema term for “point of view”) will begin its 18th season as a PBS national signature series on June 21.

Federally funded, abstinence-only sex education is sparking an intense national debate. Shelby Knox of Lubbock, Texas, is caught in the midst of this debate. Although her county’s high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the nation.

Knox, a devout Christian who has pledged abstinence until marriage herself, becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education. Her advocacy is not easy because of the work of her father, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican, and a youth minister of True Love Waits, a national movement to “save” young people for their wedding night.

As the controversy erupts, Knox begins to question her conservative Southern Baptist upbringing. When the campaign broadens to include a fight for a gay-straight alliance, she confronts her family and pastor and grapples with the impact of her evolving beliefs.

As the national debate on reproductive rights heats up and on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, “The Education of Shelby Knox” is a timely film. “With the Bush administration’s support for abstinence-only sex education,” said Mertes, “school policy regarding what our children are learning about sex becomes an issue for every parent across the country.”