polishing the Dining Commons tables at MLK Jr Middle School in Berkeley
You might be surprised to find well-polished, handmade wooden furniture in a public middle school dining commons, let alone any lunch to serve upon it. You might be equally surprised that the tables, benches and stools of Martin Luther King Jr Middle School survived their first year of use and abuse by over a thousand kids a day relatively unscathed, in support of the inaugural School Lunch Initiative.
Some may assert the seeming absurdity of providing our kids with the highest quality things we are capable of making, like gardens, food and furnishings, as a waste of effort. Others like myself see the gesture as the beginning of a long overdue conversation about the importance of respect, maintenance and refinement in public education.
I consider the term ‘polished’ an apt description for just about anything well rendered and thoughtfully executed. Whether applied to a feat of athleticism, academics or art, it implies that something is worth the effort to polish in the first place, and that there remains room for improvement in the future- the thing in question simply gets better when polished. This was thankfully my experience earlier today when Ene and I revisited the Furnishings I Made for the Dining Commons to assess a manageable regimen of routine maintenance for the years to come. We rubbed petroleum jelly into the grain of the tabletops, an inexpensive, non-toxic and durable polish, and recommended a monthly routine of the same. The process confirmed my adage of Maintenance Equals Improvement, and I loved seeing the first dings and dents in the wood be buried under the sheen of a hand-rubbed polish, adding the welcome first layer of ‘user-generated’ character to the tables.