The Education of Shelby Knox

Movie review by
Heather Boerner, Common Sense Media
The Education of Shelby Knox Movie Poster Image
Teen sex docu preps families for a healthy debate.
  • NR
  • 2006
  • 76 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Shelby and her parents talk openly about issues they disagree with and encourage their daughter to follow her dreams. Teens and adults deal with the hot-button issue of teen sex in a mature way, though they often disagree.


One teen talks about boys trying to hit him with a baseball bat.


Talk about abstinence and abstinence pledges, and sex with and without a condom. One sex educator shows how to put a condom on a dildo. Girls are ascribed a point value for how much sexual experience they have and then boys try to go out with the girls with the least experience and "screw" them. Some kissing and hugging, but nothing explicit. Gay teens are shown, sometimes with arms around their shoulder, but no kissing and nothing explicit. A school official is discovered to be having an affair at the office. There's talk about teens who are gay having a life-expectancy of 40 years and being sinners, and talk of teens who have sex being "like dogs on a streetcorner."


Ocassional swearing, including "f--k" and "hell."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One girl talks about having liquor bottles as "best friends" but no one drinks on-screen.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary looks critically at abstinence-only education and its religious underpinnings. It talks openly about teen sex, abstinence-only education, and contraception use, and is likely to upset most viewers at some point. Depending on the political bent of the viewers, they'll be offended either by the push for comprehensive sex education in the school or the push for abstinence-only education. Shelby hangs out with gay teens.

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What's the story?

Fifteen-year-old Shelby Knox is the daughter of two God-fearing Republicans in Lubbock, Texas, where the teen STD rate is twice that of the national average and the teen pregnancy rate is high -- and where they only teach abstinence in the schools. Documentary filmmakers Marion Lipschultz and Rose Rosenblatt set out to explore this seeming paradox, and find a willing star in the charismatic Knox. Knox has taken a pledge to stay abstinent until marriage and attends the local Southern Baptist church regularly. But over the three years of the documentary, Knox also becomes one of the most vocal advocates for comprehensive sex education, and fights a school district and community that believes that sex should be taught by parents and only parents. Can Knox help change their mind? And can she and her parents find a resolution between their two very different beliefs?

Is it any good?

This film's honest portrayal makes it the perfect documentary for every parent of a teen to watch with their child if they're ready for a healthy debate to follow. 

Being a teenager is hard enough without wading into the national battlefield that is sex education. But Shelby does so enthusiastically and intelligently and leads the viewer on a trip that's both thoroughly thought-provoking and anxiety-producing. This film captures not just Knox's convictions but also her earnest teen angst. After a fight with her parents, she bemoans, "I used to agree with my parents on everything. Then I became… a person. I guess everyone has to become their own person." And she is. She's looking for a boyfriend who won't see other girls, and trying to find the right friends, get into the right college, and keep her parents close.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what they believe about teen sex and sex education. Whose side would you agree with if you lived in that community? How would parents deal with a child who opposes everything they believe in? Would they support their child the way Shelby's parents support her? Do you agree with the depiction of religion in the film? Do you agree with Ed Ainsworth's idea that "Christianity is the most intolerant religion in the world"?

Movie details

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