Peter Parker Education: Why Spider-Man’s Schooling Is Integral To His Character
I recently learned I got accepted into graduate school and like any good writer of a pop culture/geek blog, my mind went to comic characters and their own educational journeys. While most fans are aware that many of their favorite superheroes are certified geniuses (literally, GENIUSES!), their educational background isn’t always known. What forces or people influenced them to pursue a higher degree? How did they nurture their intelligence? In this blog post, I’m going to be focusing on one particular superhero: Spider-Man. What kicked off Peter Parker’s education and what about Peter Parker’s university degree? Open your textbooks and get ready to take some notes!
How Did The Education Of Peter Parker Begin?
Image via Sony Pictures
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko first introduced Spider-Man to comic book readers during the Silver Age of Comics, he was a teenager who attended Midtown High School (also known as Midtown School of Science and Technology). It was likely based on the real-life high school in the Bronx called the Bronx High School of Science. As we all know, Peter wasn’t exactly the most popular kid in school; he was often teased and ostracized for being nerdy and smart. Despite all of this, he loved math and science and was often depicted tinkering with new experiments or working out complicated mathematical equations. Lee and Ditko’s first iteration of Spider-Man was “intellectually gifted” although later versions of him put his intelligence at that of a genius. Eventually, Peter Parker would earn university degrees and become an expert in the fields of applied science, chemistry, physics, biology, engineering, mathematics, and mechanics.
While not a lot is known about Peter’s biological parents, many versions of Spider-Man (including the movies) show Peter’s dad as a biologist. Not many details were shared about Peter’s mom, although in the Core Marvel Universe she worked for the CIA. It would make sense that both of his parents might have instilled a curiosity and love of science and learning in Peter before passing away. When Aunt May and Uncle Ben took Peter in, they continued to foster a love of education in him. While not explicitly stated, Aunt May and Uncle Ben weren’t rich and they knew that Peter was smart and could go far with a good education. After Peter gained his powers, he realized that he could potentially better his own life for selfish purposes, but Uncle Ben redirected these thoughts, uttering the famous “with great power comes great responsibility” line. Granted, he didn’t know Peter had powers and was talking about his education and intelligence, saying that he could use his genius for good and for helping others. Ironically, Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius said something similar in Spider-Man 2 (released 2004):
“Intelligence is not a privilege, it’s a gift. And you use it for the good of mankind.”
Even though Peter had the new responsibility of being Spider-Man, he also realized that his education was something that needed to be nurtured too, especially if he was going to continue to make society a greater place to live.
Spider-Man’s Education Connects Him To Characters That Are Integral To His Growth
Image via Marvel Studios
What’s interesting about Spider-Man’s education is that it usually involves other characters who will play a very important role in his life. For Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker, his best friend’s dad, Norman Osborn (played by Willem Dafoe), is the head of Oscorp Technologies. Peter is in awe of Norman and knows all about his nanotechnology. Norman offers to take Peter under his wing and show him the ropes of his company, only to end up turning into the Green Goblin and becoming one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker also looks up to someone at Oscorp Technologies: the brilliant Dr. Curtis Connors (played by Rhys Ifans). Dr. Connors used to work with Peter’s dad and thus has a soft spot for the young genius. He also takes Peter under his wing, only to become Lizard, another Spider-Man villain. In both of these instances, Peter struggles to understand if he could’ve done something different and if their transformations into bad guys was ultimately his doing.
The most recent iteration of Peter Parker is played by Tom Holland and while there’s no mentor-turned-supervillain in his movies, his role model is Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.). He gets to intern with the guy he lovingly calls “Mr. Stark,” who takes him under his wing and helps him through his Spider-Man transition. When Tony Stark/Ironman sacrifices himself at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Peter is understandably upset, and it ultimately causes him to reassess his dual life as Spider-Man and whether it’s something he genuinely wants. Ultimately Spider-Man’s education has been at the forefront of Peter developing as a superhero and reassessing his responsibility as someone that can save the world.
Peter Parker: From High School To University Degree
Image via Marvel Studios & Disney
Peter Parker’s education has always started as a high school student, although it’s usually late high school when he’s eligible for internships and/or thinking about getting an internship. Even Miles Morales, while not Peter Parker, is a 14-year-old in Into the Spider-Verse. On Disney+ Day last year, we learned that there were several new Marvel animated series coming, including one called Spider-Man: Freshman Year, which will “follow Peter Parker on his way to becoming Spider-Man in the MCU, with a journey unlike we’ve ever seen and a style that celebrates the character’s early comic book roots.” It is a prequel to Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s still high school, but during the beginning of it.
College has always been a no-brainer for Peter and it shows. From MIT to Columbia, Peter thinks about some of the best science and technology colleges in the country. In the comics, he earns a science scholarship for Empire State University (likely a combination of Columbia University and New York University) and eventually earns a graduate degree in biophysics and his doctorate in biochemistry. This comes in handy as Spider-Man too since he can often use his science smarts to come up with his own gadgets or help dismantle the bad guys’ weapons. College also offers a host of new characters and plotlines that could potentially be explored too. Peter befriended the Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm while at Empire State University and while at grad school, met Felicia Hardy aka the Black Cat. Seeing as there’s a new Fantastic Four movie coming out, the first option holds a lot of potential, especially as a way to bridge the connection between the Spider-Verse and the rest of the MCU.
You can watch all the Spider-Man movies across a range of streaming platforms, which are listed here. Spider-Man: No Way Home will be available for streaming March 22, 2022.
What do you think of Spider-Man/Peter Parker’s education? Was it important to have him earn a university degree? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured image via Sony Pictures